New Grant: Award Funds Fair and Equitable Urban Air Mobility Infrastructure

Yasser Shoukry

Aug. 10, 2023 - Principal investigator: Yasser Shoukry, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and co-principal investigators Cody Fleming (Iowa State University), and Min Kyung Lee and Chandra Bhat (both from University of Texas Austin)

Award: $2 million over four years

Funding agency: National Science Foundation, Smart and Connected Communities

Project: Community-Driven Design of Fair Urban Air Mobility Transportation Management Systems

This project will engage community stakeholders in the design and development of an open-source Computer Aided Planning tool for fair and equitable Urban Air Mobility (UAM) infrastructure. UAM is the use of small, highly automated aircraft to carry passengers or cargo at lower altitudes in urban and suburban areas, with the aim of providing safe, reliable and environmentally sound options to reduce traffic congestion. These include delivery drones, on-demand shared mobility by Vertical-Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft for intra-city passenger trips and, eventually, electric and autonomous VTOLs.

As this new transportation mode is evolving, it is an opportune moment to design infrastructure that provides effective and equitable air mobility for all, avoiding past mistakes of infrastructure designs with long-lasting, often discriminatory effects that reinforce socioeconomic inequality. With community input, the researchers will develop novel machine learning techniques to generate design options and devise evaluation measures and trade-off decision mechanisms.

The proposed technology, VertiCAP, will allow planners to navigate complex design space options, including long-term decisions (allocation of UAM airports, also known as vertiports), medium-term decisions (design of air space) and short-term decisions (air-traffic control). Through continuous interactions with a community council, the researchers will evaluate and demonstrate the effectiveness of the VertiCAP tool in Austin, Texas, and Southern California.

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