The AURORA citizen workshop in Barcelona, held on 30 October, 2023, at the Aeroports de Catalunya offices, brought together a diverse group of 7 participants for 3 hours of engaging discussions around Urban Air Mobility (UAM). The workshop, conducted in Catalan and Spanish, proved to be a valuable platform for sharing opinions, sparking thoughtful conversations, and exploring various facets of UAM.
The workshop commenced with a warm welcome, setting the stage for an informative and productive discussion. To warm up, participants answered pre-survey questions, enabling the organisers to gauge their knowledge of UAM. When asked how comfortable they are with the idea of UAM, a majority expressed they were not comfortable and expressed skepticism. Various reasons contributed to their reservations, including concerns about the maturity of UAM for urban settings.
The 7 participants represented a diverse cross-section of Barcelona’s residents, encompassing an age range from 18 to 55 years. While 5 participants work full-time, the other 2 are full-time students. Participants entered the workshop with a spectrum of UAM knowledge, ranging from intermediate to comprehensive. Importantly, since UAM has not yet been fully implemented in Barcelona, their understanding of the concept was based on anticipation rather than experience.
After the pre-workshop questions, Silvio Semanjski, the Barcelona-based AURORA project coordinator, presented the AURORA project, offering participants valuable insights into the initiative. The workshop team also highlighted the Barcelona pilot’s focus on the smart city context, where autonomous drones can enhance public services while also ensuring citizen safety.
Thereafter, participants were divided into 3 distinct groups, each tasked with discussing their preferences and concerns regarding the introduction of UAM services in Barcelona. Additionally, they explored potential use-cases that could make UAM more acceptable in their region. Common themes emerged, reflecting shared concerns and considerations:
- Environmental Impact: Noise pollution, environmental changes, the necessity of charging infrastructure and disposal of batteries were widespread concerns across all groups. Participants were apprehensive about how UAM could affect the environment, including residential areas.
- Safety and Ethics: Safety issues, ethical dilemmas (job displacement), and the responsibility for accidents were at the forefront of discussions. These concerns encompassed both privacy and citizen security, emphasising the need for ethical decision-making in UAM, particularly when it belongs to public entities.
- UAM Application: Participants found the application of autonomous UAM services challenging, questioning its practicality and cost efficiency. The efficiency of drones compared to existing transportation modes was a recurring discussion.
- Specific Use-Cases: There was a notable preference for UAM in emergency and critical service scenarios, such as medical public services, accident response, and organ transportation. They reiterated that the services would need to cater for the public and not only for the wealthy. Participants were against the implementation of air taxis.
- Accountability: The willingness of governments, implementing cities or system developers to accept accountability was a point of contemplation, emphasising the importance of holding someone responsible in case of accidents.
Participants had clear preferences for where they would accept or not accept UAM operations. The majority expressed concerns about drones near the airport, citing potential interference with planes. Half of the participants were uncomfortable with drones along the coast, primarily due to privacy concerns. Some went on to suggest a compromise, where drones could fly along the coast until nearing the city, emphasising low-populated areas for flying to minimize the risk of accidents. Privacy concerns were a recurring theme, particularly related to the use of cameras and the balance between citizen security and individual freedom.
The workshop provided an engaging platform for participants to gain insights into UAM and its potential impact on their city. While skepticism loomed large, the participants exhibited a strong desire to understand UAM better and explore its implementation in Barcelona.
In post-workshop discussions, over half of the participants held a neutral stance on UAM’s role in the future of transportation. They emphasised a preference for UAM in emergency use-cases rather than regular transportation. Some even questioned the necessity of UAM unless it addressed specific challenges, such as privacy, security, safety, accessibility, and accountability to foster great public acceptance.
The AURORA citizen workshop in Barcelona revealed an engaged and curious community, open to discussions about UAM and eager to ensure its responsible and beneficial integration into their region.