August 9, 2019

Rise Above the Noise…and the Traffic

Almost no matter where you live, congested roadways are going to be…
Avatar Clare Scott

Almost no matter where you live, congested roadways are going to be a problem for you at some point or another. In especially crowded metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, for example, it can take hours just to drive a few miles. Conditions won’t be getting any better anytime soon, either – experts have predicted that the number of drivers on the road is only going to continue to increase in the next few years.

The most obvious solution – more roads – is an unsatisfactory one. The landscape is already crowded with roadways, and adding more will only have a negative impact on the environment while having a minimal effect on traffic congestion. Instead, engineers are thinking on a different level, literally. It’s time to bring some of our urban traffic into the air.

Electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are one of the latest developments in mobility. These battery-powered vehicles are being designed to provide air taxi and air delivery services, taking some of that congestion above the streets and into the skies. Several companies already have eVTOL vehicles in development, slated to begin rolling out in the next decade. By the 2030s, if all goes well, we could see gridlock dramatically decrease as commuters hop into hovering aircraft to travel short to moderate distances.

There are, of course, several concerns associated with eVTOL vehicles, one of the main ones being that many people simply don’t trust battery-powered vehicles to carry them safely above the Earth. What if the batteries fail? How far will these vehicles actually be able to travel before they need to be recharged? Take the worries that many people have about ground-based electric vehicles and multiply them – will society be ready to accept battery-powered air travel?

Another concern is noise. Communities near airports already deal with issues caused by airplane noise, and many are understandably worried that having low-elevation aircraft buzzing above cities could contribute greatly to already significant noise pollution. That has, of course, been taken into consideration, however, and strict regulations will be put into place to ensure that eVTOL transport is as quiet as possible. The designs that are already in the works are being engineered to be much quieter than helicopters and other traditional aircraft. The more rotors are added to an eVTOL, the quieter they become, as well as safer – solving two issues at once.

There are environmental concerns that go along with eVTOL as well. While powering them with batteries means that they will not be adding further emissions to the atmosphere, lithium ion batteries, which most companies are working with, are unsustainable in terms of how materials for them are mined. While lithium ion batteries make the most sense at the moment, serious effort should be put forth to come up with a more sustainable alternative.

While the adoption of eVTOL for commuting and deliveries will improve traffic conditions in the ground, what will they become like in the air? Will we simply be trading one problem for another? The technology we have available suggests that we will be able to make air transport safer and more efficient than ground transport, avoiding the risk of clogging up the skies by using lidar or radar to make eVTOL highly aware of the presence of other air vehicles.

Simulation will be key in the next few years as these vehicles are further developed and made ready for use. Those who are apprehensive about traveling in an airborne vehicle should rest assured that every eVTOL will be tested and tested again, both physically and in the virtual realm. Simulation will also be able to identify sources of noise and allow engineers to make the necessary modifications for quieter aircraft, as well as predicting battery life and safety.

To learn more about eVTOL and the role simulation plays in their development, download the free whitepaper “Charging Forward: The eVTOL Journey into Urban Space” here.

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