We live in an age where, in developed countries at least, mobility is easy to take for granted. With high personal car ownership, extensive public transport networks and low-cost flying available to most people, to have that mobility suddenly and drastically limited in the current pandemic is a reminder that we shouldn’t take it for granted after all.
The temporary changes enforced by COVID-19 also highlighted some of the problems caused by our current mobility model. The gridlock on the streets of major cities, the thick pollution in those cities’ air, and the over-crowded trains running on strained networks, all disappeared. By temporarily removing our ability to travel, we also saw that how we travel has to change.
So what does the future of mobility look like? The current crisis has already changed the face of some aspects of transport forever. Air travel is likely to be more expensive, with some airlines not surviving the financial effects of the pandemic. The aviation industry will also have to look to sustainable fuels if it’s to reduce its carbon footprint and resist the growing backlash against flying among environmentally conscious millennials. Other changes that will become the new norms in mobility are already under way, as societies move towards greener solutions to existing issues:
Already popular, particularly in hybrids which combine electric power with petrol or diesel combustion, many of the world’s car manufacturers are moving towards electricity and away from fossil fuels. Electric cars will be more efficient, running further per charge, and increasingly the electricity that powers them will come from renewable sources.
Carpooling and ridesharing apps such as BlaBlaCar, Carma and Sidecar are already popular, and there is evidence that young people are increasingly happy to share their cars. Individual, personal vehicle ownership may drop off as cities in particular are unable to sustain the current growth in car ownership and average urban traffic speeds slow to a crawl.
Science fiction is awash with driverless vehicles smoothly delivering people to their destinations in the cities of the future. While genuinely autonomous vehicles are still some way off, there are already experiments with driverless taxis taking place in the United States. But huge investment in infrastructure will be necessary to make that science fiction become fact, and driverless vehicles may themselves have their own drawbacks. Could increased access to vehicles, making them available to people who cannot drive, actually mean more cars on the road and less use of public transport?
In a future where autonomous vehicles become commonplace, not having to drive will free people up to use the time they spend in their car on more productive activities. An increasingly interconnected world means the cars of the future are likely to become extensions of the home and office, connecting smoothly with both to allow domestic and work chores to go on uninterrupted. Your car, like your computer today, is likely to need routine software updates to keep up with new soft-tech developments, and protect it against hacking. Plugging your car in overnight would charge it for tomorrow’s travel while downloading its newest operating system update at the same time.
Mobility as a Service
If cars can be connected to the internet, your phone, your office and your home’s smart devices, why not connect them with other transport options? An integrated journey, planned and booked across a single network with fewer separate payment points, should make travel that involves switching between different modes of transport much smoother than it is today.
One element that’s common to all these future trends is integration. Hybrid cars, autonomous-vehicle-ready road infrastructure, net-enabled vehicles and MaaS journeys all rely on fluid connectivity. The same will apply to the industries that produce these technologies in the first place.
As in many sectors, it’s often start-ups that provide the vision, imagination and drive to try something completely new, or to find applications for emerging tech that nobody else has considered. While the large car makers, for example, are developing hybrid and electric fleets at scale, game-changing tech that they’re not working on is going to come from start-ups.
When the landscape evolves as quickly as it is currently, start-ups are either behind that evolution or agile, confident and brave enough to surf the leading edge of the wave. Ford and General Motors are already among the car giants that have bought start-ups into their organisation, and new names are entering the mobility industry constantly, in every sector. The links between emerging tech and industry will be among the key factors in shaping the future of mobility.
The Collider is a venture-building programme that looks to build such bridges between science, corporations and entrepreneurs. Powered by Mobile World Capital Barcelona, this innovation project aims to drive the transformation of society through tech transfer initiatives, improving the lives of people globally.