Technological innovation is not only transforming how we travel, but also our landscapes
The way in which we travel is changing rapidly, very rapidly. We are on course to experience a complete revolution in public and private transportation systems and modes in ten or fifteen years, at most. And this wide-ranging revolution will transform our vehicles, our habits and even our cities and road networks.
Driven by the technologically-savvy Millennial Generation, our cars are turning into super-computers on four wheels equipped with telematics safety and security features, emergency services and advanced infotainment systems. Even more significantly, however, Millennials are slowly, but steadily veering the automotive industry towards a car leasing and sharing business model. And, in the meantime, we are closer than ever before to the adoption of self-driving vehicles.
Furthermore, Intelligent Mobility is exploiting mobile technology to develop integrated, efficient and sustainable public transport. In the United Kingdom, for example, 54% of public transportation users consider their smartphones an essential instrument for their movements.
Many of our cities are still planned around high streets and avenues that hail back to the Ancient Roman Decumanus Maximus to which we added traffic lights, roundabouts, road signs and parking lots. And while the first multi-storey parking facility was built in 1918, less than one hundred years ago, the demise of parking lots may well be one of the first major consequences of this new revolution.
Cities around the world are currently adopting smart solutions that include intelligent parking lots, traffic lights that divert traffic to less congested routes and public illumination systems that automatically adjust to environmental light, whilst also promoting public transport and even TNCs to reduce traffic congestion. In the near future, transportation companies will field entire fleets of shared self-driving cars that will keep driving around, transporting passengers, without ever standing idle, virtually eliminating the need for urban parking lots. Indeed, even individuals who still elect to own a private car could profit by allowing them to operate uber-style as TNCs when they are not needed, rather than paying the steep cost of parking.
On August 25, 2016, the Asian city-state of Singapore, a global innovation hub for commerce, finance and transport, stepped forward to introduce the first global fleet of commercial self-driving cars. While the service is currently in a final pilot phase, operating solely in Singapore’s One-North District and only providing free rides to select clients, it clearly marks a brave new frontier: the functional testing of telematics-driven vehicles in a complex urban environment.
On the trade transportation front, Europe is already experimenting with platoons of self-driving trucks. The European Truck Platooning Challenge, which was developed under the Dutch Presidency Semester of the European Union, involved convoys of 2-3 trucks driving autonomously, via a wireless connection to a lead truck that determines routes and speeds. The trucks travel together, reducing fuel consumption, reducing emissions and maximising service and cost efficiency.
Most interestingly, perhaps, this move away from personal and company-owned transportation is giving rise to “Mobility as a Service” that allows users to move around seamlessly on a range of different transportation modes based on personal needs, a natural evolution of digital interfaces that allow users to select travel destination and times, and organise their journey on public transport, taxis, TNCs and, soon, even those self-driving shared cars moving around our cities.
Clearly, this ability to seamlessly integrate a variety of different travel modes will itself become a new service horizon, a business merging smart ticketing solutions, TNC-style fleets and transport apps.
Advances in technology and innovation, mobility and smart cities, mean less traffic, less pollution and less noise. They free up entire areas devoted to vehicle movement, parking and servicing. And bode well for greener, more efficient and, above all, more human-oriented cities.
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