Forum Virium’s work and digital twin pilot kicked off Helsinki’s Urban Air Mobility model

Artikkelikuva: Forum Virium’s work and digital twin pilot kicked off Helsinki’s Urban Air Mobility model

“The coming of Urban Air Mobility manifests a new digital era,” Christina Suomi ponders and adds: “Unmanned and automated aerial vehicles are as revolutionising as the first flight of the Wright brothers, or the world moving from propeller aircraft to jet engines at the end of the Second World War.”

We talked to the Unit Manager of the City of Helsinki Urban Environment Division and Project Manager of the Helsinki U-Space project Christina Suomi, who told us more about the cooperation with Forum Virium Helsinki on Urban Air Mobility.

”Without Forum Virium’s AiRMOUR project, it would have taken us a lot longer to drive urban air mobility forward within the City organisation. Inspired by the work done and lessons learned in AiRMOUR, we are now developing and testing our goals in the Helsinki U-Space digital twin,” Christina Suomi says in a video about the AiRMOUR project.

1. How would you describe your activities?

“We are the designers of the urban environment. In terms of strategic land use, we are always looking to and anticipating the future. The first U-Space prototype data for Helsinki was prepared by the City itself on the digital twin platform in late 2023, with the help of the city model.”

”The Cave is a simulation space of the Helsinki Urban Environment Division where we can view the impact of urban air mobility on the City environment and thereby learn from it and understand it. An important background element was the urban airspace survey by the Forum Virium Helsinki AiRMOUR project. It was the first to produce an overview of what it means to the City that unmanned aerial vehicles are more commonplace. It became clear that waiting on the sidelines is not possible in this change.”

“It’s worth remembering that the City does not own its airspace as airspace is regulated by the central government. However, the people designing the City and its structure are now able to use the power of 3D visualisation offered by the digital twin, for example for planning landing spots for unmanned aerial vehicles, since the model includes the airspaces we have created as prototypes. But the work is still not done.”

2. What kind of cooperation have you engaged in with Forum Virium Helsinki?

”The work done by Forum Virium and Project Manager Renske Martijnse-Hartikka, in particular, in the EU projects on urban air mobility – AiRMOUR and CityAM – has been essential for us to have a clear vision and build a network. The urban air mobility workshops held by Forum Virium offered us valuable information and opportunities to connect with operators and companies in the field. It made our progress much easier that the initial work and information collection had already been done and we gained a view to the rest of Europe.”

“Another essential project that has set the stage for us is the ‘Urban Environment Division & City Model’ project (the ‘K&K’ project), led by City Geodesist Tiina Talvitie, and the pilots started by it. They create data-based, cost-effective solutions and allow for the agile testing of concepts such as the airspace digital twin. The cooperation between Forum Virium and the K&K project also provided us with technical support for getting started with the digital twin. Cooperation between various City operators, such as the K&K project, Forum Virium and City Planning, was perfect – this is how it should always be!”

Helsingin kaupunki-ilmailumalli, Christina Suomi (kuva: Vesa Laitinen)

3. How did the cooperation go, and what insight did you gain?

”Our cooperation with Forum Virium was seamless. I immediately saw that we now have access to such support, information and skills that the Urban Environment Division has not had before and that have not been possible due to the nature of our responsibilities.”

“Since urban air mobility is a digital, three-dimensional and heavily regulated field, it requires various competencies, new partners and a shared understanding. Then again, I knew from the start that we already possessed the tools and abilities for taking on this topic in a timely manner and with anticipation for the inevitable future development. Waiting on the sidelines is out of the question in such a disruptive change.”

“In Finland, urban air mobility is regulated nationwide by Traficom. However, it is important that the City also progresses in a controlled and coordinated manner. For this, the digital twin with its capacity for visualisation and simulation is the best tool by far. Only by understanding data and analysing it into information can we use it for the benefit of residents. You need to use the information for management, too!”

Cooperation between various City operators was perfect – this is how it should always be!

Christina Suomi, unit manager of City of Helsinki Urban Environment Division and project manager of Helsinki U-Space

4. How are you doing now, and what are your future plans?

“I started as the manager of the two-year Helsinki U-Space project in March. In this pioneering project, we will continue to enrich the digital twin and generate insight into the City of Helsinki’s aims on a phenomenon that the City only has limited influence over. We are also preparing to make the data produced machine-readable.”

”Our understanding of the nature of the U-space will grow substantially. Urban air mobility requires a new kind of extensive cooperation, even between authorities, and we will definitely participate in promoting this development. Understanding the impact of urban air mobility and setting goals for it are an important part of total city planning so that we can influence the direction of development. But we have not yet taken a position on this yet.”

5. How would you describe your actions for sustainability?

“We promote responsibility, especially in terms of safety, intelligence, protecting national interests, smooth everyday life, functionality, and sustainable growth. It is a responsible action in itself that we will now study urban air mobility extensively. I see this as taking responsibility at a national level, as well.”

“We are interested in how Helsinki could become an attractive place for new professionals and companies in urban air mobility. We also want to know how business related to urban air mobility can equally benefit both our environment and our residents. As an example: how can we secure new opportunities for emergency medical services and rescue services and not hinder residents’ access to them?”

“Drones would also allow for more seamless cooperation between university hospitals, e.g. through transports both between Helsinki and Tallinn and between Finnish hospitals. Beyond cities, drones also allow for faster emergency medical services and business opportunities for the edges of cities and rural areas. In the future, drones will surely replace passenger and road traffic as well, but it is not yet fully known to what extent and which products this will entail.”

Photos: Vesa Laitinen

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