County Durham joins leading European communities in Urban Air Mobility Initiative

County Durham has joined a network of innovative cities and regions across Europe in an initiative to nurture the development of airborne smart mobility, which includes services such as air taxis and ambulances delivering medical equipment.

The Urban Air Mobility (UAM) Initiative is part of the European Innovation Partnership on Smart Cities and Communities (EIP-SCC), supported by the European Commission. It brings together cities, citizens, businesses and other stakeholders to launch practical demonstration studies of drone technologies. The initiative is led by Airbus, while institutional partners include Eurocontrol and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). In the UK, the initiative is overseen by Nesta. Other participants include Geneva, Ghent, Brussels, Toulouse, Antwerp, Hamburg and Le Nouvelle Aquitaine.

Airborne smart mobility will use airspace and flying vehicles as part of sophisticated transport and urban planning systems harnessing new technologies such as artificial intelligence to improve the movement of people and goods and reduce traffic congestion.

UAM Initiative projects include the planned development of airborne drones as taxis, as ambulances to carry medical equipment, trauma doctors and organs for transplant, to perform observation roles for police and fire services, feeder freight traffic between airports, parcel deliveries and tourism.

It builds on the existing expertise in the North East, which is home to a growing number of drone technology and mobility companies, and the region’s universities which have been at the vanguard of drone usage in academic disciplines, such as geography and earth sciences.

Among them is e2E, a satellite communications company, which recently launched a new generation of lightweight terminals that provide “beyond visual line of sight” connectivity services for unmanned aircraft systems, extending their range for roles such as inspection and monitoring, search and rescue and mapping.

Participation in the UAM Initiative comes under the banner of the North East Satellite Applications Centre of Excellence, managed by Business Durham, the economic development organisation for County Durham, and supported by the UK Space Agency and the Satellite Applications Catapult.

As a Fellow Region of the UAM Initiative, County Durham, will engage with public and private sector organisations at a regional and national level to promote the development of innovative solutions to urban mobility challenges by the drone, transport and urban planning communities.

Catherine Johns, innovation director of Business Durham, commented: “The region has already established itself as an important centre for the drone sector which is making a real difference across many industries, such as emergency services, environment and infrastructure, construction, and logistics.

“Joining the UAM Initiative fits perfectly with our recently launched Situational Awareness Information National Technology Service (SAINTS), which brings together experts from business, universities and the public sector who will use artificial intelligence to combine travel, business and satellite data to come up with ways to solve some of the country’s most pressing challenges – from traffic congestion to UK border security issues. We now have a superb opportunity to build on that and play a pioneering role on the international stage.”

Nesta, the global innovation foundation, is supporting this activity as the UK Ambassador for the UAM initiative. Through the Flying High project, Nesta has worked with cities across England to investigate potential ways that drones can be used to provide social benefit and public services, guided by citizen engagement.

Urban air mobility

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