When it comes to traffic, the world is at breaking point. Last year, in America alone, congestion cost the economy an almost unfathomable $305 billion, predominantly due to lost productivity from workers and wasted fuel.
It’s a global problem, and alongside the cost there is also a human impact. Think about Los Angeles, a metropolis that has reluctantly claimed the not-so-coveted title of ‘world’s most congested city’ for the second year running. Shockingly, its drivers spend an average of 102 hours sitting in traffic per year. Similarly, São Paulo is the fourth most congested city in the world, where drivers spend 22% of their journey time in traffic. We could go on, but the list is as long as it is depressing.
As the world’s population continues to boom and more people are moving to cities than ever before, it’s a crisis that can’t be swept under the carpet. We’re simply running out of space, and real action must be taken before our busiest cities come to complete standstill.
Dancing into the clouds
It might sound like something from a CGI-filled sci-fi film, but one way to reduce congestion and escape traffic is to literally rise above it. Enter flying vehicles, which will soon offer a viable alternative to current road-based transport methods.
Yawo Afande is a System Test Engineer at Siemens eAircraft and is helping to turn the futuristic project, called CityAirbus, into a plausible reality. What’s more, the battery-powered aircraft could roam our skies sooner than you might think, with the first test flights due to begin later this year and ready to be fully rolled out in major cities by 2025. They’ll be able to fly at up to 120km/h, much faster than urban drivers can currently travel.
Trained in mechanical engineering, specialized in mechatronics and robotics, Yawo works in a lab in Munich making sure the new technology is vigorously tested. “My role is to take care of the test setup, test bench design, and test configuration management; we have to test every functional and normative requirement, as well as safety and robustness.”
“The idea is that we create vehicles that can fly in cities using the third dimension to abort traffic time and so on,” he says. When it comes to transport, the second dimension refers to the way vehicles can travel in two directions: either straight or sideways. Aircraft fall into the third dimension, due to their ability to travel up and down during landing and take-off. The same goes for vehicles that can travel underground.
“We are kind of saturated with the two-dimensional transport methods we are currently using,” says Yawo. “We have traffic jams everywhere in our cities, the population is growing and we’re starting to have megacities like Mumbai where people need three hours to drive a small distance to work.
The new quadcopter-style vehicles are a collaboration between Siemens and Airbus. They will be able to carry up to four passengers and, unlike commercial planes, the energy-efficient aircraft will take off vertically, which removes the need for runways. When first launched, pilots will fly the vehicles, but the long-term ambition is to make the aircraft autonomous, with typical destinations being airports, train stations, and skyscraper roofs. “I’m really passionate about it, I really like the idea,” he says. Learn more about Yawo’s contribution to the future of air travel in the video below.
The secret world of Capoeira
When Yawo’s not influencing the future of the world’s transport industry, he has another passion that’s helped him to be his best self at work: the Afro-Brazilian martial art, Capoeira. “It has a lot of history behind it, but what I really like is that it’s almost a life philosophy. It’s not a fight, it’s a play,” he says.
Combining acrobatics, dance, and music, the sport is known for its complex and quick movements, and it’s helped him to realize that, just like the transport industry, there are many dimensions to his character. “It has helped me see in many dimensions. You can’t just have a mathematically powerful mind, you also need emotional sensitivity to understand a team dynamic,” he says.
Finally, it’s taught him invaluable leadership lessons that will stay with him as he progresses through Siemens. “You’ve got to respect everybody, whatever the situation or the stresses of the day. Somebody on the floor can beat you, somebody smaller than you can be more agile,” he says. Good leaders don’t simply lead, they follow too.
Yawo Afande is a System Test Engineer at Siemens eAircraft, based between Siemens and Airbus offices. He joined the Siemens Graduate Program in 2015, where he spent rotations in Germany and the US as an Application Engineer for Motion Control and Factory Automation, a Drive and Motion Consultant, and a Motion Control Application Manager. He is now based in Munich, Germany.