Flying Cars Become A Reality
Recently, due to technological changes such as big data and artificial intelligence (AI), an industry that combines platform technology in the transportation field is emerging. In particular, as the number of innovation cases combining cloud and AI technologies in the mobility sector and overall autonomous driving technology increases, a wind of change is detected in the transportation industry. In 2025, the flying car (UAM), which could only be seen in sci-fi movies, is expected to lead the future of mobility by breaking through the skies of Seoul.
With the spread of hyper-connected society and non-face-to-face daily life, many companies are introducing cloud technology, so the transportation service of the not-too-distant future will use all means of transportation, such as electric wheels, bicycles, passenger cars, taxis, railroads, and airplanes, through a single digital platform. The prospect that 'MaaS' will be the center is dominant.
In the future, it is predicted that most urban transportation systems will be unable to cope with the rapid increase in the urban population. As an alternative to this, mobility services based on autonomous vehicles and shared platforms are emerging.
Among many next-generation mobility services, interest in the UAM industry that uses the sky road as a route is high. UAM is a comprehensive future-innovation mobility service that goes beyond automobiles, and it is predicted that it will be able to break down the boundaries between cities and cities by innovatively shortening travel time, and overcoming the problem of mobility efficiency that is gradually declining due to global megacities.
UAM is an abbreviation of 'urban air mobility and refers to urban air transportation. In particular, it is expected to be able to breathe life into a large city such as Seoul, which is in a state of saturation such as chronic traffic jams.
UAM is known as eco-friendly future transportation means that can fly comfortably in the city sky because it flies at an altitude similar to that of an existing helicopter but has no carbon emission and noise is greatly reduced by using electric power.
UAM is a next-generation mobility solution that maximizes mobility in urban areas by combining with a personal aircraft (PAV) capable of vertical take-off and landing. It is defined as a transport ecosystem.
According to Morgan Stanley, a global investment bank, the global UAM market is expected to grow from $7 billion (about 7.8 trillion won) last year to $1.474 trillion (about 1640.64 trillion won) in 2040.
The average annual growth rate is 30.7%. The Samjong KPMG Economic Research Institute also predicted that the number of global UAM passengers will increase from 12 million in 2030 to 445 million in 2050.
In the future, the mobility concept is expected to cover the entire ecosystem of all modes of transportation, from individual mobility for one person to autonomous driving and UAM, as the scope of the mobility concept expands in line with smart cities. Consumers' desire to travel at their desired time is the driving force behind the rapid growth of the urban air mobility market.
A real model of 'Butterfly' was unveiled by Hanwha Systems at the 'Korea Defense Industry Exhibition (DX Korea 2020)' held at KINTEX last year. It is expected to be commercialized in 2025. [Photo = Hanwha Systems]
Offensive UAM development begins… Which domestic companies are active in UAM?
Hyundai Motor Group has recently attracted the most attention. Hyundai Motor Company expressed its will to develop UAM at 'CES 2020', the world's largest IT and home appliance exhibition held in Las Vegas, USA in January last year.
The goal is to form a mobility ecosystem by connecting UAM, which uses the sky as a new passageway, and PBV, an eco-friendly means of transportation that meets the lifestyles of passengers, as a mobility transfer hub (HUB).
Hyundai Motor continues to sign business agreements related to UAM development with local governments and related groups. We signed an MOU for cooperation in the successful realization of UAM and ecosystem construction with the Seoul Metropolitan Government, and in September of last year, we successfully implemented K-UAM and demonstrated test flights with Incheon International Airport Corporation, Hyundai E&C, and KT. decided to join forces for
Hyundai Motor plans to accelerate UAM development by promoting commercialization from UAM development to manufacturing, sales, operation, and maintenance, and supporting test flights in UAM demonstration projects.
Hanwha Group is aggressively investing in related companies with the determination to preoccupy the rapidly growing UAM market. Hanwha Systems, a group affiliate, acquired a 30% stake in Overair, an American company that has the original technology for UAM air taxi aircraft in January last year. Since then, the company is showing its will to preoccupy the UAM market to the extent that it dispatched a large number of developers to the Overair headquarters in Los Angeles, USA.
Hanwha Systems has already presented a mock-up of an air taxi at the 'Seoul Smart Mobility Expo' held in June. It exhibited a mock-up of the air mobility aircraft 'Butterfly', which is being developed jointly with Over Air, which has taken over the stake.
The Butterfly is said to be able to operate an air taxi several times at a speed of up to 320 km/h by equipping each of the four tiltrotors that enable vertical take-off with an electric propulsion system powered by an electric battery.
Hanwha Systems and Korea Airports Corporation also decided to install 'Verti Hub' at Gimpo Airport, which is a higher-level concept than Verti Port, a terminal for urban air transportation where air taxis can land and get off.
Hanwha Systems plans to finally finish developing the aircraft by 2024 and start pilot operation of the Seoul-Gimpo route in 2025.
Image of the PAV 'Butterfly' jointly developed by Hanwha Systems and Over Air of the US. [Image = Hanwha Systems]
How far did domestic UAM come? UAM commercialization in 2025
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport announced the 'Korean Urban Air Traffic (K-UAM) Roadmap' in June of last year, and is preparing for revision and demonstration of related laws.
To introduce the commercial service in 2025, it has presented a step-by-step goal to demonstrate flight by 2024 and prepare for full-scale commercialization from 2030.
If UAM is commercialized in Korea, a route from Gimpo Airport to Gangnam in Seoul is being considered. It is still in the design stage and has not been finalized. First of all, the government is planning to build a UAM take-off and landing area in some spaces of Gimpo Airport and Incheon Airport. It is also called a Vertiport because it takes off and lands vertically.
After leaving the airport, the UAM will move along the Han River. The intention is to fly while avoiding land where vehicles and people move as much as possible, as accidents can occur even during low-altitude flights.
After that, the idea is to move to a center with many companies and government agencies, such as Gangnam and Gwanghwamun in Seoul. The government is planning to use the rooftops and parking lots of public institutions in Gangnam to create take-off and landing sites.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport also published the 'Korean Urban Air Traffic (K-UAM) Operation Concept 1.0', which contains the operation strategy for domestic UAM commercialization service and key strategic scenarios.
If you look at the operation concept, you can see a sketch of the three-dimensional urban transportation system operation concept, such as the corridor, which is an exclusive UAM route. The commercial operation of K-UAM is carried out based on three phases of development strategy: initial (2025-2029), growth (2030-2034), and maturity (after 2035).
The difference is that in the initial stage, the captain boards the UAM plane and steers it directly, and in the growth period, it flies by remote control, and in the maturity stage, it is operated by the autonomous flight method. Even in the growing period, we are promoting the method of having a safety manager on board in consideration of passenger safety in case of an emergency.
Unlike the traditional aviation industry, UAM uses Vertiport, a UAM landing and landing site without a runway, and operates in low-altitude airspace (300-600m) in the city center.
In place of the airport facility operation and air traffic control service, which had been exclusive to the state, Vertiport operation and UAM traffic management service will be newly introduced. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport explains that the private sector will also be able to participate as Vertiport operators and UAM traffic management service providers.
A dedicated skyway, the UAM corridor, will also be opened. The corridor is made in the form of a passage with the Vertiport as the starting and ending points. In the early stage of commercialization, only a few are operated in a fixed form (fixed corridor), but as the number of vertical ports and routes increases, multiple corridors become a complex network (fixed corridor network).
In the mature stage, it evolves into a Dynamic Corridor Network that changes every moment according to the flight plan. The UAM corridor will be separated from the existing aircraft airspace and will receive UAM traffic management services instead of the national air traffic control.
The corridor will be built between 300 and 600 meters above the ground and at least 150 meters higher than the height at which small drones operate. Initially, voice-based wireless communication (VHF/UHF) is also used between the captain and the traffic manager or air traffic controller, but the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport predicted that it will gradually be replaced by an advanced digital communication system.
Various situations that can occur in the main process of getting on and off the UAM are analyzed from various angles, and the roles and interrelationships that each stakeholder will play are summarized.
In addition, it is considering a scenario with safety as the top priority while stipulating the tasks and procedures for stakeholders by envisioning a commercializable operating model. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport plans to enact and reflect the UAM Special Act on matters requiring institutionalization.
K-UAM is the Grand Challenge, including public-private joint demonstration project without this operation to develop and refine the gaenyeomseo through continuous research and development projects is policy.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport, it plans to accelerate commercialization by directly demonstrating the operation scenario through a UAM flight demonstration around November of this year.
An image of the personal flying vehicle 'S-A1' that Hyundai Motor Company and Uber are making in cooperation. The 'S-A1', which can accommodate up to five people, including the driver's and four passengers' seats, can fly at a speed of up to 290 km/h and has an altitude range of 1000 to 2000 feet. [Image = Hyundai Motor Company]
What are the challenges for UAM commercialization? “Airspace regulation, development of domestic UAM aircraft”
Experts are concerned that if we depend on foreign companies without the localization of UAM aircraft, it may even lead to a deterioration in the competitiveness of the domestic aerospace industry in the future.
In addition, there is an opinion that we should focus on securing the original technology development rather than focusing on publicity as if the commercialization of UAM is about to be imminent.
Although many private companies and public institutions are developing UAM technology, the development of domestic source technology is not accelerating. In fact, Hanwha, which has the greatest will to develop UAM, is also developing a joint venture by investing a stake in Overair in the US.
In addition, last year, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport held the UAM Seoul Demonstration Flight and introduced an air taxi that will play the role of next-generation urban transportation. However, the drone taxi used for the test flight at the time was a two-seater drone taxi from Yihang, a Chinese drone company.
Looking at the previously announced K-UAM roadmap, the phrase 'New domestic UAM companies, including the aviation industry, have difficulties in commercializing domestic aircraft in the near future due to lack of related aviation technology'. The authorities, in effect, have admitted to the lack of technology.
For air taxis powered by electric motors, the higher the battery performance, the better the flight. However, with current domestic battery technology, the time an air taxi can fly on a single charge is only 20 to 30 minutes. In terms of distance, it can only fly 40 to 50 km once it flies.
The safety of the battery also acts as a stumbling block. Most air taxis currently under development use lithium-ion batteries. It is the same material as an electric vehicle battery, which is recently pointed out as a risk of fire accidents. In other words, air taxis may have a higher risk of accidents due to batteries than electric vehicles.
The Korean-style urban air transport technology roadmap was recently released by the government. [Source = Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport]
The Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI) has some kind of prototype technology for testing, but there is no unmanned technology aircraft for full commercialization.
In fact, Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) as well as Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KAI) succeeded in a test flight of an unmanned rotorcraft, which is a prototype, last year. However, it cannot be said to be a complete technology development in that the first flight was successful in Goheung, Jeollanam-do rather than in the city center where complex airspace is intertwined. In addition, the regulation of airspace in downtown Seoul is also considered to be an obstacle to commercialization. Currently, the route rules for the airspace in Seoul are set according to the Aviation Safety Act. It is said that there are no routes that UAM, an urban air transportation means, can operate over Seoul.
Due to acute security issues, no-fly zones such as P-73 and P-518 zones in Seoul's airspace have been established. Currently, drones, etc. can fly in this airspace only with permission from the Ministry of National Defense.
Although the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport is the subject of the Aviation Safety Act, as mentioned earlier, in the case of no-fly zones such as P-73 in Seoul, it is possible to revise the laws only after obtaining permission from the Ministry of National Defense and the Air Force.
The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport announced the Korean-style urban air traffic (K-UAM) roadmap last year but did not mention how to solve the limited airspace problem in Seoul. In addition, there is no mention of airspace in 'K-UAM Operation Concept 1.0', which contains the core scenario of UAM commercialization.
Currently, UAM R&D in the private and public sectors is on fire. However, it is also clear that there is still a lot of homework to be solved.