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The flying menace coming to a city near you!

June 19, 2018

By Scott Witchalls

What role will drones and flying cars play in planning healthier, more sustainable cities of the future?

I'm as excited as the next person about what the future holds for our transport systems. There has been a lot of talk about electric and self-driving cars, and these are being developed and rolled out. However, a fully ‘self-driving’ network is decades away.

But the use of drones and flying cars has been rapidly creeping up on us, and their widespread use will happen way before self-driving cars appear to any great extent on our streets.

Yes, drones could play a key role in supporting our emergency and security services, but, the big push now is for flying delivery services, cars and taxis (personalised aerial transit). The autonomous technology needed for these services is already established in the aircraft industry and trials have already taken place.

The irony is that we could be on the cusp of solving the real menace of poor air quality in our town and city centres with the banning of combustion engines by 2040; are we to potentially replace this with a new visual and noise pollutant?

‘Silent’ drones are always going to have a flying insect sound, changing in pitch as vehicle size increases, and we may need to get used to a stream of low flying aircraft interrupting our view and ambience. NASA research found that drones caused a higher level of perceived annoyance than cars.¹

There is also concern over the potential impact on our privacy with drones flying past our office and bedroom windows every day.

There seems to be too much focus on technology for the sake of it.

We should, instead, be making the case for healthier, more sustainable future cities, with a ‘places first’ agenda. Tackling the travel and movement challenges at source through good land use and place making design that exploits technology where it can help, rather than inventing a new way to pollute our cities for the sake of saving a few minutes for those that can afford it.

So what next for this future form of transport?

Some use of drones in a controlled way will improve our towns and cities, but only if they are part of a much wider ‘places first’ agenda, putting our wellbeing at the heart of design and decision making rather than being led by the technology.

  1. Initial Investigation into the Psychoacoustic Properties of Small Unmanned Aerial System Noise Andrew Christian∗ and Randolph Cabell† NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA 23681, U.S.A.

Originally published by PBA, now Stantec.​​

  • Scott Witchalls

    Working on projects in both the UK and overseas, Scott develops and delivers transport plans for major sustainable and regeneration programs.

    Contact Scott
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