Words for a new world
The mobility of the future will free up space in cities and change our lives for the better. It’s an exciting journey, and along the way we will develop a terminology for the technology and services. Here's what the new terms mean for our everyday lives.
Artificial intelligence (AI)
Artificial intelligence is science fiction. We are confronted with artificial intelligence every day. Both statements are true, because there is a difference between general and narrow AI. The former describes a computer that thinks like – or better than – a human. That is still way off. The latter involves a computer accomplishing specific tasks autonomously, e.g. face recognition on Facebook or a car that senses its surroundings quickly and precisely. So as you can see, we are (almost) living in the future.
Big data is nothing more than recognizing patterns in the billions and billions of data points created every day worldwide. Powerful computer algorithms analyze any data generated by the intelligent infrastructure of a smart city, or evaluate data from millions of navigation systems. This way, for example, we can find out which streets are particularly susceptible to traffic jams, which factors play a role in this, and how bottlenecks can be avoided. Ideally, big data provides answers to questions that are yet to be asked.
Connected car services
In the 21st century cars are no longer simply a means of getting around. They are also high-powered computers connected to the Internet – “connected cars”. For drivers this means a whole slew of convenient features called “connected car services”. They can get real-time traffic information or use concierge services to book a hotel at their destination. And if problems occur out of the blue, the car can be serviced remotely. Businesses will benefit from the enhanced efficiency and profitability of connected fleet management.
Crowd traffic mapping
One huge downside to the traffic information we hear every day on the radio is that the news is often out of date by the time we reach the road in question. Crowd traffic mapping provides a remedy by evaluating the navigation data of countless vehicles and then calculating in real time an alternative route that will save the driver precious time. Additional connected car services enable cars to be warned not only about traffic jams but also about inclement weather conditions, e.g. fog or black ice.
It may not seem like it yet, but driverless vehicles are no longer a mere vision of the future. How does all this work? By using a myriad of different sensors, such as radar, lidar and stereo cameras, vehicles can monitor their surroundings all the time – other cars, pedestrians or obstacles. But there are distinctions between the various degrees of autonomy. A level 1 vehicle might help you with parking, while a level 5 vehicle only needs the driver to enter a destination – then the driverless vehicle will do the rest.
A few years ago, this was just a niche market where hackers and hobbyists were enjoying themselves; today, the unmanned aircraft are a billion-dollar industry. Drones are as diverse as their fields of application. Some fly by remote control and can reach speeds of several hundred km/h. Others are only a few centimeters in size but fully automated and are already being used to assess critical infrastructural details or simply take fascinating photos and films. And soon they might even be delivering packages.
Free-flow traffic is driving the way it was meant to be – no gridlock or stop-and-go, just a nice flow. Vastly complex mathematical equations describe how obstructions impact the flow of traffic, e.g. how a bottleneck carries on in waves until there is a complete stoppage. Unfortunately, that is more and more the case, although it is usually neither an accident nor force majeure that hinders the flow of traffic, but infrastructure overload.
Global positioning systems (GPS) are one of many technologies that have made the transition from unobtainable high tech to everyday products in recent years. A network of satellites that circle the earth at a height of more than 20,000 km tells every user their exact location – to an accuracy of under 10 m. Everyone knows about GPS from their navigation system, but the applications have become much more diverse in recent times. For example, you can find where you parked your car in unfamiliar and confusing city centers. Or by using so-called geofencing, you can determine if a vehicle has left a predetermined zone.
Every one of us has experienced a situation where every lane is gridlocked for no apparent reason, day in and day out. Such gridlocks are caused by infrastructure overload. The past is catching up with us. After all, our cities, roads and streets were planned and built at a time when nobody could imagine how many people and cars would one day be living in them and driving on them. However, this infrastructure overload not only affects roads; it also impacts railways and electricity grids. Fortunately, concepts already exist for reducing the load our outdated infrastructure has to bear, e.g. on-demand mobility or the smart grid.
Sometimes, the modern world is a paradox. People travel around the globe at amazing speeds and products are shipped between continents without any problems, but still manage to lose steam in the final few meters. Experts call this the ‘last mile’ phenomenon, and it causes the most emissions as well as the most stress for travellers – both in freight transport and passenger traffic. So novel concepts are needed for precisely these distances, e.g. parcel stations or drones for package delivery and car-sharing services for individuals.
A mobility budget is the amount of money each person has available for his or her private means of transport. Increasing multimodality is resulting in this budget becoming more and more diversified. In the future, allocating most of the mobility budget to one’s own car will happen less often and the budget will be divided instead among the various on-demand mobility solutions.
Even if we are not aware of it, we all get from A to B in a multimodal manner. The concept of multimodality states that the way in which we move around has become just as flexible as our lives themselves. So we don’t just get into our own cars every day to get to work but seamlessly combine various modes of transport – bikes, local public transport or on-demand vehicles. Greater flexibility means lower fixed costs – and ideally reduces the mobility budget. The use of various modes of transport in one journey from A to B is known as intermodal mobility.
Multimodal travel management
The more flexible and varied private means of transport become, the more help travellers will need to plan their journey. This is why, in the future, your smartphone will assume the role of a personal travel agent, planning the route from door to door in a single search query and combining tickets and payment in just one app, independent of the respective providers.
Cities are constantly on the move. But sometimes the momentum slows down and everything comes to a grinding halt. To avoid this, cities of the future must have tightly knit networks of on-demand mobility solutions that allow residents to keep moving without having to plan their journeys in advance or reserve private transportation, e.g. bike sharing, robo-taxis, ride hailing or on-demand vehicles.
Predictive service offering
In the interior of a modern car countless sensors monitor everything that’s going on, and sound the alarm if irregularities occur. Instead of working on maintenance cycles based on how much you drive or how long you have owned the car, this system enables you to predict necessary repairs and urgent service appointments before things get critical – anything from simple oil or tyre changes to a complicated service. As maintenance predictions are automatically generated by a networked car, they are part of connected car services.
How do you attract attention when you need to get from A to B quickly – indeed immediately? The days of whistling or waving have past; today, you just need a smartphone. So-called ride-hailing apps promise a smart and fast alternative to the common taxi, and the industry has already passed the billion-dollar mark. These apps will determine your location and send you a car as quickly as possible from the potentially massive number of drivers who are constantly on the move. Every driver has an individual profile where you can see what car he or she operates or how past passengers have rated their service. Ride hailing has thus become an important building block of on-demand mobility.
The term robo-taxi certainly does sound like science fiction, but experiments are already being conducted in American cities with robo-taxis – in live traffic. Being driverless is not the only new feature of autonomous taxis; the way they drive is also novel. Autonomous taxis would not spend the majority of their time sitting around waiting at taxi stands but circle through the city like a swarm. As on-demand vehicles, robo-taxis would also reduce the need for private cars, thus creating more space in cities.
Think of a city as a nervous system. Everything that moves within it – be it people or vehicles – generates data. In a smart city these bits of information are assessed by sensors via an intelligent, invisible infrastructure hidden behind traffic lights, street lamps and waste containers: Where is there traffic? Where are smog values rising? Where is the road surface damaged? In a smart city questions like these can be answered quickly and objectively to make it a more efficient, cleaner and more livable environment.
Electricity doesn’t just come out of the socket on the wall. One of the most important steps towards a greener future is not only the production of sustainable electricity, but also figuring out how to store it. Smart grids must be able to provide enough power at any time, e.g. when all commuters arrive home and need to charge their electric cars. In a smart grid supply adapts to demand and household appliances only turn themselves on when there is a surplus of electricity.
For a city to become intelligent it has to have an intelligent infrastructure – regardless whether that means roads, the electricity grid or even sewer systems. This infrastructure will monitor itself in real time via sensors and comprehensive networking. From the information gathered and analyzed it will be possible to see in advance when maintenance work is necessary – in a similar way to predictive service offerings. This saves resources, money and time.
Traffic flow management
At one time or another, we have all been part of a traffic flow management system – for example when we board a plane that gets its directions from an air traffic control tower. But if you have to coordinate tens of thousands of cars instead of a few dozen planes, you cannot do this centrally. That kind of traffic has to organize itself. In a smart city traffic lights can be controlled to suit the traffic situation. Autonomous cars can communicate using connected car services in order to better distribute traffic and achieve the best possible outcome: free-flow traffic.
It’s an old adage that a car has four wheels and an exhaust pipe where smoke comes out. This is not the case with zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs). Although cars with fuel cells only drip a bit of water from the pipe still known as an exhaust, we may need to find a new name for it soon – if it isn’t eliminated altogether as with purely electric cars. This would enable us to avoid billions of tonnes of CO₂ emissions. What’s more, a ZEV produces not only fewer emissions but also less noise. Hardly surprisingly, the demand for these vehicles is increasing all the time.