The Future of Smart Mobility
Published on : Friday 06-08-2021
Soundharyaa Nandakumar on how a combination of major far-reaching mobility trends is shaping the future of smart mobility.
Since its origination, automobiles have had their turning points at every evolutionary stage, in terms of technology, comfort, refinement, accessories and much else, before emerging in the present form with all bells and whistles, and connectivity to boot. The evolution and the innovations that made the transition possible has changed people's habits greatly, not always positively perhaps, given the accident statistics and environmental concerns along the way. It is now time to tighten the seat belts in anticipation of another giant leap as the automobile is poised for another technological makeover, in the era of smart everything.
Is that all about it, or is there more to it than that?
When we think of smart mobility, all that comes to our mind is a vehicle with smart features or a self-driving vehicle like Google Cars, so before getting into smart mobility, let us think in a logical manner. When we think of a beautiful city, what comes to our mind is the perfect construction of buildings, flawless scenery, cosmopolitan culture, globe-trotting populace and much more.
Likewise smart mobility is a combination of major far-reaching mobility trends like Autonomous, Connectivity, Electric and Shared or ‘ACES’ – and other modes of transport like bus, train, cycles, etc., acting as one as a single system. The Autonomous in this represents self-driving vehicles; Connectivity represents vehicles which can communicate with other vehicles as well as the surroundings and a central control; Electric refers to the battery/fuel cell and motor combination replacing the IC engine; and Shared is how the city commute will ultimately evolve, with car pools becoming the norm rather than the exception, the ownership concept gradually withering away. Smart Mobility will make use of multiple technologies and real time data to simplify mobility challenges, resulting in sustainable and pollution free commute, with many more players like Uber and Ola.
Sustainable mobility as transformation
Micheal Darr, North American Automotive Lead at Capgemini Invent, has written about smart mobility and how traditional car manufacturers are under pressure from various directions and owing to several factors. He has quoted examples of countries and cities preparing the groundwork to ban sales of conventional IC engines or keeping them away from urban localities as soon as possible or at the earliest by 2025. Existing automobile players are investing huge amounts for transforming their wheels into latest industry trends to create unified operating architecture and further development, whereas new competitors are at an advantage, as they have no legacy burden to carry. In an interview at an industry forum, Darr has mentioned how Capgemini Invent, in partnership with Salesforce, is working on a project for ‘smart mobility connect’ and ‘customer engine’ on the latter’s platform to architect a solution with OEMs and all the way down through their value chain of Tier 1, Tier 2 organisations to the end customer. The project proposes a prototype solution that has everything starting from purchase, vehicle configurations, components, and their service systems – services provided to the end customer. Developing new innovations and providing solutions is the future of smart mobility, he asserts.
Where did it all begin?
It all started with the ‘Gruesome Crash’ incident, which is said to be the most horrifying of road accidents in history. In the mid-1800s, business tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had earlier made his fortune in the riverboats and steamships business, entered the railroads business. He built the Grand Central Depot to service the locomotives of the New York subway system, which was the most developed in New York (NY) city. The locomotives that were serviced at the Grand Central in late 1800s were powered by steam, leading to safety concerns among the public. The fatal accident mentioned above occurred in January 1902, which led to the banning of steamed locomotives from Manhattan. William Wilgus, the Chief Engineer of Grand Central then pioneered a new technology by harnessing electricity to power the New York Railroad's trains, to safely run the massive and large railway yards in the growing metropolitan network with ‘Trams’ or ‘Electrified Trains’. These were also run underground by digging tunnels. Wilgus later supervised the construction of the new Grand Central Terminal. Being dissatisfied with the existing plan, he hired the brilliant architect, Whitney Warren, to help design the new terminal to transform the project into great success. This massive project seemed impossible, but eventually changed everything about the railway system. Over a decade, spending over 100 million dollars, it proved to be worth the time and cost, as it reduced accidents, congestion, providing a safer means of transport, and this was the start of Smart Mobility in the olden days!
In terms of smart mobility advancements and business developments, many industries have to work together like Automotive, Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Data Service to bring about a massive technological change. For smart mobility to work, it not only depends on technology, but also on city planners, common people, government and industry leaders, because if they do not work together with technology, smart mobility will not get along and will continue to cost lives.
Taking mobility in our hands
The current phase of smart mobility deals with Mobility Operating System (M-OS), Fleet Manager and operator platforms and MaaS platform. These platforms are widely used in various ways to create their own mobility services, which in return can make mobility more accessible, e.g., mobile apps for payments, booking, reservation and other communications through various interfaces.
The Future of Smart Mobility
I would say the future is smart mobility, which has already made a beginning, and will grow in course of time. Starting from calling a cab through an app at the doorstep to seamless connections of various modes of transport in real time, smart mobility is already playing a critical role in people’s lives, facilitated by regulatory changes, technology dominance, etc. This includes mobile apps for every action we want to do like ride sharing and vehicle booking to supporting services or functionalities, which have no relation with travelling, because at the end of the day, everything is interlinked with each other.
Oliver Wyman, the leading international management consulting firm, surveyed more than 7000 people across continents to know their preferences in terms of smart mobility, how it is impacting their travel choices, and whom they would trust for development of smart mobility. So, the next evolution of smart mobility – by the 2040s – will be based on consumer perspectives, their deeper understanding about these developments. Market competition will also play a major role in smart mobility choices. Are the various stakeholders across industries ready to refine their business models based on changing customer needs and other factors? Soon, many cities will likely talk about their smart mobility systems.
What sounds like sci-fi today seen only in the movies could become real someday, as has happened with many technologies like mobile connectivity, the internet, AR/VR and much else, and the world is already halfway down towards this new reality. Overall, it would be really exciting to look forward to seeing our fantasies become real. But it is going to be a game changer when we get full access to smart mobility functionalities someday.
Soundharyaa Nandakumar is currently pursuing her Masters in Mechatronics and Cyber Physical System in Germany. Her previous work experience as an automobile technician has given her a good understanding of how beautiful the car/vehicle is with intricate designs and unbelievable technologies inside. This craze and passion for cars made the decision for her to pursue a career in Automotive Technology.
In her own words, “I always compare cars to women, because we never know what is inside them, how mysterious they are with n number of technologies evolving around every day making them futuristic statements – just like women – undergoing many things in a day to be strong enough to conquer the world.”