Intertraffic presents: the year of 2021 in smart mobility
End of year lists. Periodical publications and websites are full of them from the middle of November every year: whether it’s films, or books, or songs, or TV shows, or favourite “celebrity” moments, they are staple feature of our fourth quarter reading. Intertraffic decided to follow suit and invited a selection of smart mobility experts and innovators to tell us what they think have been the most significant developments in their chosen field in 2021, be it a product, a solution or a new way of thinking.
What follows is a snapshot of this year’s greatest hits of smart mobility according to these five mobility experts:
- Sampo Hietanen, MaaS Global
- Anton Emelyanov , Moscow-based Cognitive Pilot
- Giles Bailey, Stratageeb
- Bern Grush of Toronto’s Urban Robotics Foundation
- Eric Masaba ,Texxi Global
“In the big picture, all public transport operators seem vast and they are spoken of as such, but for people travel is travel. As about 20% of a typical household's budget is spent on transportation and most of that (76%) is the cost of owning and using a car, the question is about finding a mode of public transportation as exciting as owning a car. The last mile problem has been the clearest in public transport, and this is what micro-mobility supply is trying to solve by combining public and private transport. Thanks to the rise of micro-mobility, the last leg of the trip is not only no longer a problem, it can now even be the best part.
One of the solutions for the first and last mile problem are e-scooters. They are suddenly everywhere and none of them are owned by the people using them. They came out early enough to meet the demand of using without owning. The positive user experience of e-scooters has also enhanced peoples’ trust in these kinds of products that has made owning completely unnecessary. They are everywhere, easy to use and are fun. The branding has really worked!
“Thanks to the rise of micro-mobility, the last leg of the trip is not only no longer a problem, it can now even be the best part.”
As a service, this is what has changed how we view public transport and mobility the most in 2021. Both the operators and the public were able to start using them fast without legal bureaucracy delays and since it is better for the owner to have the best and newest product in order to sell it, they have also added a much-needed cool element to the streets for younger people who want a social way of travelling in an urban environment. After all, the way we build a car-free world is not based solely on rational elements; we need things that are beautiful, fun and cool.
Before, we had a car at one end of the spectrum and at the other we had public transport, perhaps a taxi or two in-between. Now we have anything we can imagine, and it all plugs into public transport naturally.
It is about asking what people want to choose, not imposing restrictions on them. Innovative solutions like e-scooters have opened up a wider view of the ecosystem, where it is not about control but about collaborating with the cities and working as a functioning part of the ecosystem. These operators have come up with a way to work together, not separately, and that is what has ensured they work so well.”
“Rail transport requires special attention and precision. The heavy weight of the train, its speed, the presence of passengers or dangerous goods are all areas of serious risk.
Unfortunately, not all the problems of rail transport have been solved. From time to time there are serious incidents related to collisions at crossings, derailments due to passing of forbidden traffic lights and other accidents related to human factors. In terms of transport economics, there are problems of downtime, effective organisation of dispatching based on information about the location and route of the train.
These problems are forcing transport operators to look for new, smart solutions. Artificial intelligence technology, that has evolved rapidly over the past five years, and next-generation sensors are successfully addressing these challenges.
"Artificial intelligence technology, that has evolved rapidly over the past five years, and next-generation sensors are successfully addressing these challenges."
The Cognitive Rail Pilot AI-based system developed by Cognitive Pilot allows the tram or the locomotive to 'see' and 'understand' the situation along the way with high accuracy, to warn the driver of the danger, and in case of lack of response, to automatically perform a safe stop.
In addition, using a set of special algorithms, the system allows the location and dynamics of the locomotive to be determined with a very high degree of accuracy. In this development, computer vision technology based on deep learning neural networks, millimetre radar technology, as well as special mathematical algorithms for post-processing data to ensure the required accuracy and reliability of the system, are being used. Such an autopilot system ensures operational safety under challenging climatic and weather conditions in any light. The system is now ready for mass commercial production: implementation on a large scale will soon begin on hydrogen-powered trains on Sakhalin Island off Russia’s Pacific coast, north of Japan.”
Shared Transport and electrification
“The last two years remain some of the most unusual, challenging, and simply bizarre for certainly the last half century and probably much longer! The Covid crisis has fundamentally challenged so much of the need for public transport, and also engendered a change in the behaviour of the public in the use of transport systems.
The need for behavioural change is, however, not over and the increasing “heat” under the topic of climate change and the need to decarbonise economies, lifestyles and systems, including the particular need to get the global transport system on a path to decarbonisation, is highlighting the requirement for even more radical change. The ongoing series of United Nations COP conferences, including the 2021 event in Glasgow, Scotland, attempted to progress solutions, but more needs to be done.
A key aspect of the current change in transport systems is the move to electrification. This offers a potentially cleaner, quieter and decarbonised local transport system that can improve urban liveability. Particularly for personal vehicles, pressures – societal, governmental and competitive have been significantly increasing on the OEMs to state how they will deliver mass EVs as well as suppress or suspend the production of petrol and diesel vehicles. But, is electrification of the personal transport fleet a solution that will deliver a robust, sustainable and fair transport system that meets societal needs? I would say emphatically - no!
“The challenge for 2022 and the near term is to embrace EVs as a means of decarbonising our existing model of using personal vehicles”
The challenge for 2022 and the near term is to embrace EVs as a means of decarbonising our existing model of using personal vehicles. This will deliver gains in reducing emissions, but the wider problem is the use of personal vehicles and perpetuating a design – and resistance to changing that design – of our cities. In addition, intercity transport infrastructure also often contributes to the need for personal car use.
Society requires concerted thinking as well as action in terms of transport systems as well as lifestyles and support systems that remove the need to have permanent access to a private vehicle. Our lifestyles should be transitioned to shared transport, micro-mobility, electronic communication and reduced travel needs that move the personal car to an occasional need for selected and exceptional travel as opposed to a default for all mobility.
This will comprehensively deal with the decarbonisation issue in the longer term as well as leave us with cleaner, healthier, more socially robust and fair societies where more people have access to healthy and safe spaces as well as a range of transport means.The pandemic has made apparent many of these choices and potential outcomes during lockdowns as a result of the increase in home and remote working, localised lifestyles, a re-evaluation by many of the work that they wish to do and the types of lifestyles that they actually wish to live.
A re-evaluation of the outcomes of the electrification of the personal car industry is probably quite troubling for the OEMs. The current direction of travel seems to be to replicate much, if not all, of the current personal car behaviour – and potentially even the basic appearance of cars – with EV powertrains. Billions will be spent, much will change, but the outcomes may in the end not be very different – crowded roads, traffic jams, road deaths, physical severance of communities, noise and lack of real transport options for much of the community – albeit, with a lot less local carbon produced.
Is this really what we wanted from all of this change? While 2022 will be about the rise of EVs, it should be about the global redesign of mobility within and between cities.”
Ground-Based Automated Mobility
“Probably the smartest post-pandemic innovation is the sidewalk robot. There are already 75-100 innovators of these devices worldwide, although only a handful are currently in commercial operation. Many think this market is about to explode.
While these devices do many tasks besides delivery - last-mile deliveries are in fact the majority application - consider the value of clearing snow, de-icing pavements, cleaning sidewalks, security monitoring and tyre marking, to name a few. To help cities address and govern this opportunity, the Urban Robotics Foundation, a Canadian non-profit foundation, was created at the end of 2021 to coordinate the robotic policies of member municipalities.
“Smaller robots are typically designed for delivery, sweeping, trash-picking and security. They are expected to operate within cities, towns and suburbs”
This group will take over the drafting of the ISO 4448 series for ground-based automated mobility. This standard sets up the parameters and procedures for loading and unloading of passengers and goods using automated motor vehicles at the kerbside (robotaxis and delivery vans), as well as the movement of robotic service vehicles within pedestrian spaces (sidewalks, crosswalks, bikeways, etc.).
The latter, smaller robots are typically designed for delivery, sweeping, trash-picking and security. They are expected to operate within cities, towns and suburbs in addition to the many college and university campuses where they already operate.
In addition to drafting the standard, the Urban Robotics Foundation will provide workshops, newsletters, and conferences for its members. The work benefits:
- Cities by helping to inform the language and procedures for deciding, managing, constraining, permitting, gating, and (optionally) monetizing service robots such as robotic taxis and autonomous mobile robots (AMRs);
- Pedestrians by enabling their cities to constrain the times, places, speeds, pathways, and traffic volumes of robots in shared public spaces;
- Operators of logistics and other service fleets (e.g., maintenance, security) by informing a governance and communication infrastructure that makes negotiating concurrent access to city pavements, walkways, bikeways, laneways, etc. by multiple fleet operators safe, feasible and controlled for traffic congestion;
- Manufacturers of AMR service robots (e.g., sidewalk robots) by informing a communication infrastructure that enables a common machine and fleet conformance for acceptance into operating fleets and for city deployment.
Energy as Currency - whose primary value component is the way the energy was generated
“Mobility in the 21st Century will be defined as connecting roads, transport choice and energy use. It is not something that is just about vehicles or their guideways. As important as simple logistic delivery is the overall use of energy per outcome. With the spotlight on emissions from countries as one of the most important factors with which the world has to come to grips, getting more actual transport per unit of energy per person (or per unit mass) moved is of paramount importance, also while not reducing human freedoms or collapsing economic output.
So what if energy was both the store of value and the unit of exchange? A primary determinant of economic wellbeing is thus the unit of economic potential per unit of energy - itself so often closely related to transport - to be ultimately inseparable. For populations, the cost of transport is so close to the cost of energy that both determine the majority of household budgets. Food is an energy source whose price largely is related to the cost of energy used to produce it and transport it in the first place. Heating, cooling, lighting and computing are all energy-intensive and require daily usage.
“The best solution I have seen this year is a description that a currency based on energy use will be the next frontier”
To this end, the best solution I have seen this year is a description that a currency based on energy use, whether directly or via the proxy of something produced by energy, will be the next frontier. Desalination plants will use energy and often these may be located close to cities, making solar panels infeasible for very densely populated conurbations.
Stored energy naturally depreciates since there is new energy being created via new processes all over the planet every minute of every day. Thus already harvested energy can be kept for some time, but it does need to be used or reinvested to get the most out of its intrinsic value. This means its natural depreciation will stimulate spending.
Energy is unique in economic wealth: it is both useful in creating wealth and instrumental in determining wealth: it can be thought of as an unrecognised global currency. A country with exploitable energy reserves (oil, geothermal, tidal, wind, solar) and the means to convert imported raw materials into finished goods can create vast amounts of wealth for itself.
How does this affect the smart mobility sector? By exporting energy - a country is exporting transport, especially to another country that can make very efficient use of that energy to enable transport and therefore smart transport. In fact, one thing that can enable any nation to improve material outcomes for itself without having to go through the historically vicious cycle of ecological destruction and subsequent decontamination (as all the current “developed” nations have done), is to start with this currency, whose primary component of value is the means by which the energy was created in the first place.
Iceland, for example, has the ability to export clean energy resources to the European power grid via the UK. The method of power generation, being relatively clean geothermal, confers to the small nation an advantage in a currency market where energy and the means of its production are rated fairly and openly. With its enormous unpopulated area, Iceland could easily be home to Thorium plants, exporting more excess power to the UK. The constituent United Kingdom nation of Wales could make use of its unique geography and topography to act as a gravitational battery for any unused power as disused coalmines can be repurposed.
The coastal South American country of Ecuador has abundant geothermal and hydroelectric power, which, assuming the stability of the Government is maintained, would be a boon for manufacturers to relocate there once the energy currency (its value determined by how the energy was produced) is in play.
The East African Rift Valley, with solar, geothermal, wind and hydroelectric thus becomes a very wealthy place, assuming that transport links exist to make the versatility of such clean energy worthwhile in the first place.
“No nation can exist alone. Interdependence is going to be even more important as extreme weather events could bring disaster to any country at any time. It is very important to have adequate generative capacity distributed in many zones, in case a disaster causes losses in one place.”