How can technology help the future of mobility?

More than a billion people or one-third of the global rural population lacked access to all-season roads and transport services in 2016, subsequently hindering the socio-economic development.

Renu MehtaRenu Mehta | Devdiscourse | Updated: 03-02-2020 19:10 IST | Created: 31-01-2020 17:25 IST
How can technology help the future of mobility?
Self-driving cars intend to increase transport accessibility while reducing crashes, energy consumption, pollution, and congestion. Image Credit: PR Newswire

Urban mobility is one of the toughest challenges facing the world today and will be more challenging with rapid population growth, urbanization, increasing non-public automobile possession and socio-economic shifts in the near future. By the end of the next decade, passenger traffic is projected to exceed 80,000 billion passenger-kilometers while the number of vehicles on the road is expected to double by 2050. To uphold the booming societies and economies, sustainable urban mobility is crucial.

Mobility mustn't solely be a matter of developing transport infrastructure and services. It has to be placed in a systemic context including city planning as a whole, to overcome the social, economic, political, physical and environmental constraints of public and good's movement. 

Why sustainable mobility is the need of the hour?

Cities around the world are grappling with a number of mobility-related issues including:

  • Greenhouse gas emissions and pollution

Transportation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, a leading cause of global warming from human activities. Urban mobility currently accounts for 40 percent of all CO2 emissions of road transport and up to 70 percent of other pollutants from transport. Additionally, the degrading air quality of cities around the globe is putting people’s health at risk and causing an additional burden on already overstretched health infrastructure and budgets.

  • Congestion and road fatalities

From Mumbai to Tokyo, from Los Angeles to Moscow, traffic congestion continues to rise across the world, subsequently impacting the environment, public health, and economic productivity. According to the World Health Organization, every year, around 1.35 million people lose their lives as a result of a road traffic crash, causing considerable economic losses to individuals, families, and economies as a whole. Road crashes cost most countries 3 percent of their gross domestic product.

  • High fossil-fuel dependency

The transportation sector is a major consumer of fossil-fuel, including natural gas, coal, and oil. Fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide and other air pollutants that not only impact the environment but also public health, causing respiratory disorders, asthma, and other negative health effects.

  • Unequitable access

More than a billion people or one-third of the global rural population lacked access to all-season roads and transport services in 2016, subsequently hindering the socio-economic development.

Globally, more than one billion people would be connected to education, health, and jobs, if we close the transport access, gap in rural areas, an additional 380 million people would have access to sustainable transport if rapid transit systems were introduced in cities lacking it and more than 20 million women would work in transport if the sector achieved gender parity in employment, according to a report by Sustainable Mobility for All (SuM4All) initiative.

Considering all the above facts and figures, the world needs to move beyond the traditional mobility system. It needs to be replaced with more sustainable and innovative options like electric vehicles, drones, and connected vehicles.

Technology and the future of mobility

According to the World Bank data, a better transport system could translate into an additional USD 2.6 trillion in GPD a year, emissions savings of 1.8 gigatons of CO2, and 800,000 fewer road fatalities. From reducing pollution to enhancing operational efficiency to creating new business opportunities, novel mobility modes coupled with technological innovation offer immense opportunities to alter the face of urban mobility. 

With rapid digitalization, the volume of data and information shared and retrieved from multiple sources has increased dramatically, which could be used to access travel information, real-time traffic management, reduce congestion, thereby making transport more convenient and responsive for everyone, everywhere.

Big data and the Internet of Things (IoT) are increasingly becoming valuable and emerging as a promising technology to deliver on a vision of smart mobility. 

  • Connected and autonomous vehicles 

The rapid urbanization and increasing demand for ICT services have given birth to the concept of autonomous vehicles. Autonomous or 'self-driving' vehicles are defined as vehicles that are capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input to control the steering, acceleration, and braking.

Self-driving cars intend to increase transport accessibility while reducing crashes, energy consumption, pollution, and congestion. They offer numerous benefits including reduced infrastructure costs, increased safety, and customer satisfaction.

Major automakers including Tesla, Uber, General Motors, Volkswagen and Alphabet, Google's parent company are in the race to introduce fully autonomous cars. Few of them have even missed their own deadlines, owing to the safety concerns and legal frameworks.

  • Shared Mobility

Shared Mobility, an innovative transportation strategy that allows users to access and share transportation resources on an 'as-needed' basis, is increasingly becoming common across many cities. Shared mobility includes car-sharing, carpooling, bike-sharing, shuttle services, and other on-demand ride services.

On-demand car services like Uber, Ola, Avego to share rides with strangers, peer-to-peer car-sharing services like RelayRides or Getaround, Moovel, Zipcar, Lyft, etc. are bringing a transformative effect on the urban mobility landscape. These ride-sharing services provide urban travelers with innovative, affordable mobility mode and goods delivery strategies who don't own a private vehicle.

  • New Mobility Modes

To tackle challenges surrounding urban mobility such as dependency on private car ownership, rising congestion, parking, high energy consumption, the automotive industry players are working new mobility modes such as delivery drones, flying taxis, and Hyperloops.

Startups like Germany's Volocopter and big industrial players including Uber Technologies, Airbus, and startups like China's Ehang are investing in developing futuristic flying taxi services.

Hyperloop is a new energy-efficient mode of transportation that is sustainable and fully autonomous. Currently, under development, the new transport mode can move freight and people safely to the destination with no stops along the way, 10-15 times faster than traditional rail. Adding to the existing forms of transportation it will integrate seamlessly with the existing modes of road, rail, ports and air transport, whilst simultaneously transforming travel time from hours to minutes.

For urban deliveries, traditional vehicles could be replaced by drones. A dozen companies including the United Parcel Service (UPS) and e-commerce giant Amazon are currently working on delivery drones.

  • Clean Mobility

Electric mobility presents a viable alternative to address the pressing challenges facing the sector today, whilst simultaneously helping the world meet its climate and energy targets. Both the developed and developing economies such as India, China, the Netherlands, the United States, and Japan have enacted various programs and policies to expedite the adoption of electric vehicles.

For example, India, the home to 14 out of 20 most polluted cities in the world has committed to cutting its GHG emissions intensity by 33 percent to 35 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed are the personal views of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Devdiscourse and Devdiscourse does not claim any responsibility for the same.)

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