American Smart Cities Planning for Flying Taxis, Hyperloops, Autonomous Delivery Vehicles, Delivery Drones, etc.

By B.N. Frank

American opposition to “Smart Cities” and all the costs and risks associated with them has ongoing for years (see 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6).  Nevertheless, proponents won’t stop trying to convince citizens and legislators to embrace and fund their vision. Despite increasing expert warnings, dangerous incidents, fatal accidents and a government investigation specifically regarding Tesla AVs (see 1, 2, 3), autonomous delivery vehicles and taxis are already being operated and/or tested in some U.S. cities (see 1, 2, 3, 4).  The use of delivery drones is becoming more popular as well (see 1, 2).  So how safe will it when there are flying taxis along with delivery drones as well as commercial, law enforcement, and military aircraft?

From Smart Cities:

Flying taxis, hyperloops and driverless cars: Is it too early to start planning for future mobility?

Plans for flashy, futuristic modes of transport distract from simpler solutions for today, critics say, but Miami, Orlando and Pittsburgh are not deterred.

Published Nov. 19, 2021

Editor’s note: This story is part of Smart Cities Dive’s “Reassessing the smart cities movement” multipart series, which provides a look into the past, present and future of the space.

In 1982, Walt Disney World officials officially opened Epcot Center, inspired by Walt Disney’s plan for a utopia that would “never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems.” Although the Florida attraction was not necessarily a utopian city, the park’s Future World pavilion — marked by an iconic geodesic dome — was meant to show off new technology and visions of the future.

Today in nearby Orlando, Mayor Buddy Dyer wants his city to take a similar forward-looking perspective, to become what he calls “America’s premier future-ready city.” In September, the city moved toward that vision in announcing the early steps of a plan to bring flying cars to Orlando skies — a technology that not even Disney could bring to Epcot.

“We know this technology is going to come, and we want to have the best framework in place when it does,” said Jacques Coulon, transportation planning projects coordinator for the city of Orlando. “We know that simply expanding roads and highways isn’t going to get us to the quality of life we want, so we have to think about new opportunities.”

Through a forthcoming Advanced Air Mobility Transportation Plan, Orlando officials will partner with engineering firm VHB and NASA to consider how air taxis could fit into the city’s future. Orlando is also one of five entities — and the only city — partnering with NASA on a series of air mobility workshops.

Flying cars, air taxis or aircraft with electrical vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOLs) are still, even by optimistic estimates, years away from ferrying riders. But Orlando’s forward-looking approach reflects a reality for smart cities: Departments used to dealing with roads and trains might soon have to think about mobility solutions that seem like they’re out of The Jetsons.

While transportation departments have always worked on long-range plans to adequately prepare for multi-year construction projects, some governments are thinking even further ahead.

Miami’s 2045 Long Range Transportation Plan, first released in 2019, includes language on connected and autonomous vehicles, maglev trains, hyperloops and delivery drones. The Texas Transportation Plan 2050, adopted last year, recognizes that “technology is being adopted at a faster pace than ever before” and weighs a variety of future scenarios with different levels of technology, stating that “as Texans embrace new technologies, behavioral patterns for transportation use will likely change.” Pittsburgh even released a plan this year that looks out to 2070.

Cities prepare to get in on the action

The world of transportation has changed dramatically even in just the last decade. Considering the ride-hailing revolution powered by Uber and Lyft, or the fleets of scooters and e-bikes dropped on city sidewalks, urban transportation departments have had to adapt quickly. Kersten Heineke, head of the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility in Europe, said cities should be evaluating recent developments in mobility offerings in technology and think about becoming a pilot city to help shape the application of technology.

In an email, Heineke said there are “two main risks” for cities not preparing for new tools. “With previous technologies and services, cities who did not proactively co-shape with players had to ‘overcorrect’ by issuing … bans for certain services or vehicles,” Heineke wrote. He added that unprepared cities will be the last to reap the full benefits of the new technology.

For Orlando, that means preparing for urban air mobility by envisioning a network of landing pads for eVTOL vehicles. Those vehicles may be closer to launching than many people think: California’s Joby Aviation says it has completed more than 1,000 test flights of an eVTOL vehicle, including a 154-mile flight it says is the longest for any eVTOL, and it has started the process to gain approval from the Federal Aviation Administration with an eye on beginning commercial operations in 2024Uber and Boeing are developing flying vehicles as well.

A report this year from Deloitte and the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) found that urban air mobility could be worth $115 billion by 2035.

Several cities are hoping to capture a share of that market and take advantage of the opportunity to move people around downtown corridors without adding any congestion on existing roads. Los Angeles announced in 2020 its Urban Air Mobility Partnership to educate and engage residents and policymakers in the technology. Houston has been a hub for Uber’s flying taxi testing. In Miami, the newly constructed Paramount Miami World Center, which developers call “America’s City-within-the-City of the Future,” has a takeoff and landing port, and other new construction will include similar “SkyPorts.”

Activist Post reports regularly about “Smart Cities” and unsafe technology.  For more information, visit our archives and the following websites:

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