Traditionally, the focus on drone service users has been forgotten due to the high regulatory hurdles most companies need to overcome before being able to launch their business operations. We aren’t denying the importance of these topics, but without focusing on service users’ perspectives, we risk a large oversight when it comes to implementing actual operations. For topics like Urban Air Mobility (UAM), this becomes even more important after a joint study conducted by EASA and McKinsey on the social acceptance of new aerial mobility technologies

During the study, they found that the overall perception of UAM is positive with 83% of respondents being open to advanced air mobility technologies. This, however, changed when the same participants were asked about how safe they felt with Uncrewed Delivery Drones with 56% responding positively while 64% would be willing to try out drone delivery in practice. The study summarises these mixed findings by stating, “there exist people willing to try out drone delivery, but not feeling safe with unmanned delivery drones in operation.”

By valuing drone service user perspectives and starting the process of understanding how societal acceptance will begin to take hold as our communities start adopting these technologies, the drone ecosystem will be able to design processes and communication pathways that help people feel more at ease than they currently are and erase this contradicting nature presented in the data through education.

Understanding user perspectives of urban air mobility

The term user perspective originally comes from the tech and software industry. It has since become a trend that has sparked entirely new fields such as user experience (UX) for both design and writing. User experience researchers have developed methodologies that help understand the user perspective when approaching new technologies like driverless cars, software programs or, in our case, air taxis. 

They help engineers understand how drone service users interact with new technologies, which can create productive feedback loops that generate ever-more friendly designs that people feel more comfortable with. To give an example, we can think of everyday technologies that people use like a light switch. If you travel abroad to a foreign country, you expect to turn the light on at the top and the light off at the bottom. No matter what the switch looks like, this will always be the case, but someone needed to make a decision on how this would work. Once the decision was made, others followed the same principle. More cases can be seen in the famous book The Design of Everyday Things.

The problem the Urban Air Mobility industry now has is that there are no everyday air taxis that the design can be based on, and there is little to no research on how people interact with drones or air taxis, which means the burden of research has been placed on companies like Eve Air Mobility who are trying to build both complex aerial transportation networks, the mechanical air taxis and push for societal acceptance simultaneously, which is even more difficult than it sounds. 

Learning from other innovative disruptive mobility technologies

One aim that we have during Aerial Cities 2023 is to learn from other disruptive mobility technologies like e-scooters and car sharing that entered cities and offered alternative transportation methods. While cars and scooters existed before and were commonly in use, the way these organisations entered cities and educated customers on the concept of Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and Shared Mobility Services (SMS)

When car and e-scooter sharing entered cities, they came in with a focus on sustainability and the goal to help urban city centres reduce their carbon footprints. Many of them entered cities overnight after gaining city permits to operate, and they left the scooters for use on the sidewalks without needing to educate customers about their use. This shift, according to journalist Jordan Golson at Wired, was taken on in order to address their forerunner: Segway. In his article, he writes, “the problems that sank the Segway weren’t technological. They were social.”

In an article from Vox addressing the e-scooter bans, this lack of education on how e-scooters should work within existing transportation systems is ultimately what caused such strong backlash, although 70 per cent of respondents on average had a positive view of scooters in cities. 

By inviting e-scooter and other disruptive mobility organisations to Aerial Cities, the goal is that industry leaders of the future UAM systems learn from the mistakes and successes of other urban mobility organisations entering cities. 

The current state of the advanced air mobility industry

While we are talking about large-scale changes in the way our communities use various methods of transportation, getting to the point where using air taxis will take longer than many hope. The first step is only starting to understand where people outside of the drone industry stand when it comes to utilising these advanced technologies. Only after understanding what people think and how current levels of societal acceptance are, can we begin to understand where to build the first infrastructure. 

During a recent interview with Eve Air Mobility, they explained how the Norwegian government is looking to implement aerial transportation systems to help those in remote cities and villages access larger healthcare networks without needing to take traditional methods, which can sometimes take significantly longer due to Norway’s geography. For communities that might need 6 - 10 hours to access the nearest dentist, the acceptance of air taxis will naturally be higher if these can offer a 30-minute alternative. 

Volocopter building UAM routes for the Paris Olympics is also an example of an effort to increase the societal acceptance of air taxis. While these are likely not to be profitable long-term, operations like these, when completed safely with the approval of authorities, are a great way to help communities see the benefits these new transportation systems can offer them. 

Are you a decision-maker?

Are you Interested in being at the forefront of drone technology? Sponsor our exclusive, invite-only event Aerial Cities, where industry leaders, government officials, and key players discuss the integration of drones into urban landscapes.