Making the Jetsons a reality: How systems engineers are shaping urban mobility of the future

Imagine taking a helicopter-like vehicle from the airport to your business meeting. A team of four systems engineering seniors working on a Capstone project are designing a system that will make this dream a reality.

The senior design team has been developing the Concept-of-Operations for an Urban Air Mobility (UAM) system for the DC region. Their design uses electric vertical take-off and landing aircraft, or eVTOLs to transport people arriving on private jets and first class at the airports to the central business districts: Tyson’s Corner, Bethesda, Maryland, and Union Station

“The idea is to use the latest technologies to develop a system that would allow us to fly over the congested highways at peak hours in the eVTOLS. It’s just like the “Jetsons” but real,” says Mary Taylor, the team’s lead.

“The UAM system would improve time value and efficiency, and the hope is it could reduce congestion on the roads and reduce pollution,” says Jason Nembhard, one of the team members. 

The team developed a simulation to figure out how many eVTOLs would be needed, where helipads would be located, and a detailed description of how they would operate. The analysis also includes the business case, operating costs, and estimated consumer prices. 

“We have a very general model that could be used to develop a UAM in D.C. and other metropolitan areas,” says Taylor. 

New York City already has a UAM system operated by Uber that uses helicopters instead of eVTOLs. Los Angeles and Dallas are developing plans for a UAM system too. The team has been studying those operations to get some guidance.

Their sponsors, Modern Technologies Solutions Inc. and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission have been a big support to the team. “They’ve been great, they’re super supportive. They offer their input as needed, but it isn’t overbearing by any means,” says Lauren Flenniken, the third member of the team. 

Anderson Barreal, the fourth member of the team, says the course is a fun use of their knowledge, but still hard work. Figuring out the nuances of exactly what they need and the best way to narrow down their project has been the main challenge, but the team says they felt prepared through their systems engineering curriculum.  

“There is no class from that has been left unused in this project,” says Taylor. “We use everything. It might’ve been something we learned freshmen year, and now we can see why we learned everything we did.” 

“Systems engineers have the chance to make the world-a-better-place,” says system engineering capstone instructor, Associate Professor Lance Sherry. “These amazing students have used creativity and their System Engineering knowledge and skills to design a better future. We are very proud of them.”