UAM? AAM? RAM? Everything to know about the alphabet soup of transportation’s future

Buckle up, folks, because the future of transportation is taking flight — and it’s bringing a whole new alphabet soup of acronyms with it. There’s UAM, there’s AAM, and there’s RAM. But what does it all mean?

What about those UAMs buzzing through cityscapes and AAMs soaring over suburbs? With all these terms flying around, it’s easy to get lost in the clouds. This guide is your Rosetta Stone to the language of tomorrow’s skies.

Key terms to know

  • UAM: This stands for Urban Air Mobility, and it refers to vehicles designed for short-distance, on-demand transportation within cities. Think flying taxis, personal air vehicles, or even electric drones delivering your groceries.
  • AAM: Advanced Air Mobility takes things a step further, encompassing not just urban travel but also longer-range flights between cities and even countries. These could be electric or hybrid aircraft, capable of carrying more passengers or cargo than their UAM counterparts.
  • RAM: This one’s a bit more niche, but it’s important too. Regional Air Mobility focuses on connecting smaller communities and towns that traditional airlines might bypass. Think of it as a flying UberXL for rural areas.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some other key terms to know:

  • eVTOL: This stands for Electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing, and it’s the technology that powers many UAM and AAM vehicles. These aircraft can take off and land vertically, making them perfect for urban environments without needing long runways.
  • Autonomous flight: As you might guess, this refers to vehicles that can fly without a human pilot on board. While still in its early stages, autonomous flight could revolutionize air travel by making it safer, more efficient, and more accessible.
  • Air taxi: This is a more general term for any UAM or AAM vehicle used for passenger transport. Think of it like a flying Uber or Lyft. It may or may not be autonomous. For now though, proposals are largely still piloted, such as the Joby eVTOL taxis set to launch in Dubai by 2025.
  • Cargo drone: These unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are specifically designed for transporting goods. They could deliver everything from packages to emergency supplies.

And how do they all relate to each other? Drone Industry Insights, which is a Germany-based drone consulting and data agency, put together a nice infographic laying out the nuances and the interplay between them:

uam vs aam and ram drone industry insights
Graphic by Drone Industry Insights

What a future of UAM, AAM and RAM could look like

Experts predict that the urban air mobility market alone could be worth trillions of dollars in the coming decades, particularly revolutionizing the way we live, work, and travel.

For people tired of navigating traffic or who just want their deliveries shipped to them as close to as when they’re ordered as possible, the concept of Urban Air Mobility is tantalizing. Roads on the ground largely constrain today’s transportation. Roads themselves are constrained by the people, rivers, forests and buildings they share the ground with. Improved UAM would likely make transportation faster. In theory, you could summon a flying car on your smartphone. With the ability to take off vertically, it could pick you up on your building’s rooftop.

Regional Air Mobility becomes a tempting proposition for connecting cities with more rural or otherwise far away areas. Consider the places you’d want to get between that are too close to justify a plane because the distances between them aren’t even far enough for the plane to take off and reach cruising altitude. But, they’d also be places that aren’t close enough for the concept of UAM to apply.

That’s where RAM could come in. When used in the context of Advanced Air Mobility, it might be possible to live in a less-populated suburb that’s a two-hour drive from a major city, but be able to commute in, say, 30 minutes, by air because you’re not sitting in traffic.

But there are also challenges to consider, such as safety regulations, infrastructure development, and public acceptance. People might logically move to rural areas for peace and quiet — something easily disrupted if aircraft are now buzzing around cities. And not only is there noise pollution at stake, but also visual pollution. Drones have already brought about privacy concerns, which could only be increased here.

Other challenges include funding. Joby’s 2021 IPO was a huge, and was a key reasons why 2021 was a record year for drone investment. But in 2022 and onwards, we’ve seen investment in aviation (and pretty much all aspects of tech) dwindle.

Joby Aviation eVTOL
A visual provided by Joby shows what it’s aircraft might look like when it launches in Dubai.

What the state of UAM, AAM and RAM is like right now

As for now, the state of UAM, AAM and RAM is all about innovation. Innovation has seen an especial surge in the past two years. For example, in 2023 alone, an unprecedented 760 patents were filed worldwide in relation to those topics, according to an analysis by the Lufthansa Innovation Hub. That’s a record.

They put together an infographic showing the number of published patent filings related to AAM, broken down by year. The visual pretty much speaks for itself.

uam aam patent filings by year
Graphic by Lufthansa Innovation Hub

According to Lufthansa’s analysis, the U.S. accounts for an overwhelming majority of patent filings. What’s more, their share of patents is growing. In 2022, 60% of all AAM patents originated from the U.S. In 2023, that figure climbed to 71%.  A big reason for the increase in U.S. share can be attributed to fewer patents coming out of China. Chinese companies filed 16% of all AAM-related patents in 2022, yet just 8% in 2023).

Big players in the AAM patent filing sector include Joby Aviation, Wisk Aero, and Beta Air. All three of those names are American companies. Beta Air stands out as the top AAM-related patent filer in 2023. And it’s tough to ignore Santa Cruz, California-based Joby. Joby has concrete plans to launch service in Dubai, supposedly by late 2024 or 2025. That followed a big launch in November 2023, when a Joby electric air taxi took off from a heliport in Manhattan. Joby has the highest number of AAM patents overall (though many were filed in 2021 or earlier).

Lufthansa Innovation Hub broke out the number of patents filed by company, for the top 12 patent filers:

uam aam patent portfolio
Graphic by Lufthansa Innovation Hub

The future of transportation is taking flight, and the alphabet soup of acronyms is just the beginning. While there are challenges to address, the potential benefits are undeniable. What are you looking forward to most in this AAM and UAM future? Leave a comment below!

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