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Embracing the Future of Urban Mobility


By: Julia John-Scheder

Embracing the Future of Urban Mobility

If you live in New York City like me, you’ve probably spent countless hours on delayed subways or have been stuck in traffic at one of the many bridges and tunnels connecting this urban jungle to the rest of the world. The Big Apple is not the only place affected by this modern plight.

Recent studies have shown that the existing land transport infrastructure is not able to cope with current levels of demand in western urban areas. Furthermore, according to the United Nations DESA report, the world population is projected to increase to 8.5 billion by 2030, which will further increase demand for mobility solutions.

Cities of the future are often envisioned as being sustainable, CO2 neutral as well as energy efficient. Their infrastructure will be fully integrated with intelligent transportation services (including autonomous vehicles), the internet and other communication systems, water services, as well as electrical and power grids. But how will all of this be achieved?

Commonly shared visions of future cities show renderings of a pollution-free urban area with autonomous, emission-free vehicles seamlessly zipping through the city’s streets. Maybe there will also be high-speed rail (or Hyperloop) thrown in for good measure.

If you’re interested in learning more about where smart hubs are already in progress, watch and read about WIRED’s future cities series.

While not everything we see on depictions will be actualized, having all kinds of transport modes connected is not as futuristic as one might think. This is where intelligent mobility comes into play.

Intelligent mobility is an approach that focuses on the end user with the goal of connecting people, places and services, ideally on a large scale. Specifically, infrastructure across all transport modes will be reimagined, enabled by utilizing big data and innovative technology. Smart street lights, sidewalk Wi-Fi stations and traffic lights would automatically communicate with vehicles in motion. Berlin – the silicon valley of Germany- has many start-ups in the mobility field and they are addressing these issues. Watch this video by Berlin Partner for a few examples.

Some automakers already include smart features, such as digital parking space search in the BMW 2017 series. Siemens created a digital train that can detect empty seats, as well as safety features like recognizing obstacles on tracks.

There are also a few cities that are at the early stages of retrofitting some of their infrastructure, not only to save energy, but also to make use of innovative technology. Los Angeles, for example will install streetlights that link wirelessly to the Bureau of Street Lighting.

As one can imagine, there are quite a few challenges to be overcome before we see intelligent mobility fully realized. Probably one of the biggest hurdles is the fragmented transportation industry. A number of stakeholders will have to convene, including government, local and national transportation authorities, city councils, transport providers, network operators, data providers, and vehicle manufacturers, to name a few.

One real world example of combining stakeholder efforts is the research project simTD.

simTD was a joint project by leading German vehicle manufacturers, components suppliers, telecommunication companies and research institutions. Funding came from the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology (BMWi), the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development (BMVBS) as well as the state of Hessen.

The goal of the project was to prove that its car-to-x communication system can be safely and successfully implemented, while also keeping traffic efficiency in mind. The project had three phases with the final phase focusing on a customer-oriented, large-scale field trial. Trials took place around the Frankfurt am Main area.

In the U.S., the National Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) ran a pilot program to demonstrate the readiness of vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communication systems in Ann Arbor Michigan. Click here for more information. As the name implies, the focus on that program was to effectiveness of V2V communication and aimed at reducing accidents.

Although it might take some time for future cities and interconnectivity to be ubiquitous, the progress of research into smart system solutions is remarkable and is indicative of sustainable, intelligent urban areas of the future.

Read about German innovations in intelligent mobility here.