2020 was a year to forget for many reasons, but the dark clouds of COVID-19 may have come with silver linings of all kinds. What does the most tumultuous year in recent memory mean for the growing world of smart mobility? Will the lessons learned during a year of pain lead to a more eager desire for smart mobility solutions?
The world of transport has been trending towards technology for years, and the uncertainty created by the global pandemic will lead to a new push for mobilization and development. What are the smart mobility trends to look out for in 2021? Everything from automated vehicles to smart cities will go through remarkable changes over the next 12 months, and getting ahead of the curve might be the key difference between stagnation and stunning results.
You don’t need to be a sustainability expert to work out that there are, to put it bluntly, too many cars on the global road. Simply look out of your window. Even the smallest towns now see a constant stream of traffic flying through their once-peaceful streets. According to RFIDTires, there are around 1.42 billion cars in operation around the world, and despite the best efforts of organizations and science a whopping 98% of these still run on gasoline or diesel. Awareness of the damage done to the planet by such numbers is one thing, but reversing them is another entirely.
Shared mobility isn’t going to do all of the work, but this relatively simple smart mobility solution is an easy way in which people can lessen their negative impact on the future of the planet. While hitchhiking is as old as transport itself, more formal examples of ridesharing are fast becoming the norm, as the abundance of apps around the world attests (Uber, CarGo, LYFT, BlaBla Car, etc). According to a BuildFire projection, around 540 million people around the world will be using ridesharing apps of some kind (18% of all smartphone users), as the industry continues its steady increase.
Whether it is the morning commute to the office or long haul trips from city to city, more and more people are sharing the load and making friends along the way. Until energy-efficient vehicles become the majority, shared mobility is an easy mobility trend that can make a huge immediate difference. Convenient, convivial, and conservationist; what’s not to like?
Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is on the rise
The cat is well and truly out of the bag. As the city streets of the world grow ever more hostile to pedestrians, investing in Mobility as a Service (MaaS) is no longer restricted to a handful of forward-thinking innovators. Putting big money behind streamlined city schemes is fast becoming a must, be it investments in bicycle-centric schemes, vehicle rental, and more. A consumer-centric approach to urban mobility has been a long time coming, and that time is finally here.
The harnessing of big data has made this mobility trend a part of the now, as new forms of transport management software enhance the user's experience from purchasing tickets to the journey itself. The above-mentioned ridesharing is at the forefront, with more and more applications focusing on options and efficiency over simple numbers. MaaS is at the very heart of mobility trends that are changing the way we move, and its technology-driven disruptive focus is a revolutionary development that will soon be the norm. The way customers approach mobility is changing, and MaaS is the major smart mobility solution that is capable of changing with them.
Can MaaS solutions eventually replace individual car ownership in big cities? That remains to be seen, but the benefits of on-demand transport and energy-efficient outlooks are difficult to ignore. As MaaS continues to improve in its simplifying of finding and paying for transportation, that reality edges ever closer.
More use of artificial intelligence (AI) in transportation and smart mobility
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in mobility is no longer the thing of science fiction. By harnessing big data and sifting through the mountains of information available, AI can help those in charge improve the efficiency of public transport and streamline traffic all at the same time. AI has made a monumental difference in the way humans approach complex tasks and that ‘needle in a haystack’ ability has also blossomed into one of the most exciting and efficient smart mobility trends in the industry.
Technological development and improvement in smart mobility software are seeing businesses, industries, and consumers level-up across the globe. AI is the driver of change, powering-technologies that are revolutionizing smart city transportation, through electric vehicles, smart parking, connected vehicles, and more. AI is also proving to be an invaluable tool for those outside vehicles, improving pedestrian safety in the increasingly-mobile city through computer vision and video analytics. When used as a central part of transport management software, AI-powered tech can minimize the risks of careless driving and make public pedestrian areas safer than ever before.
AI-powered automation is another revolution in the world of smart mobility solutions, but self-driving cars deserve a discussion all to themselves. AI isn’t new but the increasingly varied ways in which it used are. The great white whale of science fiction might just end up being the very real driving force behind transportation trends for years to come.
Open mobility and the harnessing of data-driven technology
A greater desire for transparency and community will see open-source technology occupy a more prominent position in the smart mobility trends of tomorrow. We will see more and more innovative organizations looking to revolutionize the way cities manage their transportation infrastructure, and open-source technology is going to play a vital role. Expect fresh initiative likes the Open Mobility Foundation (OMF) to become household names sooner rather than later.
What are the benefits of utilizing open-source technology in smart mobility solutions? Firstly, the entire nature of the software allows for greater collaboration and more efficient mixing of ideas, bringing together creative minds that previously worked independently of each other. This in itself is a ticket to innovation and development, encouraging forward-thinking developers to feed off each other across an open platform, leading to more convenience and more sustainable mobility options for the consumer. The transparent nature of open mobility also ensures that users will see how these decisions and developments have come about.
The modern world’s increasing acceptance of big data will also make its presence felt in the smart mobility trends of 2021, as data-driven mobility becomes an ever-influential player in the world of transportation. It is data and its analysis that leads to smart mobility trends, as companies look to feed off the needs and wants of the billions who utilize the international transport system. Put bluntly, there is no development without harnessing data first.
Nurturing the elements of smart mobility ecosystems
The world around us gets smaller every day. This isn’t literal, planet Earth still has a radius of 6,371 km after all, but the abundance of smart technology and a greater desire for connection means the distances between us all grow smaller with every daily rotation. The information highway has never been busier, and the smart mobility ecosystem has never been more fertile.
What do we mean by a smart mobility ecosystem? Exactly what the name suggests, in truth. It is where the various players of the system come together, from the technological innovators to the everyday individuals utilizing transportation networks daily. The furious pace of development means that this ecosystem continues to evolve at an alarming rate, and nurturing its many elements will be one of the key smart mobility trends to keep an eye on throughout 2021.
People no longer desire mobility to simply mean ‘getting from point A to point B’. There is a growing want for traveling to also mean traveling fast, traveling safe, and traveling smart. These desires inspire the technology that drives the ecosystem, and the subsequent developments lead to fresh wants from the people on the ground. Keeping this ecosystem healthy is a must for the future of smart mobility.
Rewind just a couple of years, and the percentage of people in technologically developed towns who had used contactless payments in transportation may have been middling at best. The move from cash to contactless has been taking place for years but at a relatively slow pace, as a reticent world struggled to come to terms with the prospect of lighter pockets and having to put more trust in technology.
Then came COVID. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world in numerous ways and how we pay for transport is at the top of that list. Increased awareness of contractable conditions means people are finally seeing the folly of coins and notes circulating across trains, planes, and automobiles, as the convenience and safety of contactless forms of payment finally hit home for users young and old. 79% of MasterCard users around the world used contactless payment during the pandemic, while 51% of US users began putting more faith in mobile wallets like Apple Pay. Contactless payments in Germany jumped from 35% to 50%. The cat is well and truly out of the bag.
The move to contactless forms of payment is an unstoppable trend in all walks of life, and it stands to reason that transportation will be a part of this. Many cities have already implemented smart mobility networks for use in their metros, trains, and bus lines, with entire systems being utilized through a single contactless card. Expect this to become an international norm.
Much like AI, self-driving cars are no longer the work of science fiction authors alone. Experiments on autonomous vehicles have been conducted since the advent of the car itself, yet it is only in recent times that the idea of a car that drives itself has gained popular appeal and mainstream attention. Confidence in technology and that same technology’s development are finally meeting in the middle.
Does that mean that we are on the verge of a world where the joy of being behind the wheel will become obsolete? Far from it, but steps are being taken in the right direction to make autonomous vehicles a very real product. In March of this year, Japanese manufacturer Honda took the brave step of leasing limited edition sedans equipped with state-of-the-art automated driving equipment. While this doesn’t go all the way with total autonomy, it does allow the driver to take their eyes off the road from time to time.
If there is one thing we can learn from smart mobility trends of the past, it is that it only takes on spark for entire industries to be revolutionized. Honda will only be the first in a long line of international companies looking to make their mark on the automated vehicle industry, eager to ink their names in the history books. Putting together a self-driving car worthy of history has proved harder than many thought, but this is a trend that isn’t going to disappear any time soon.
Fully automated vehicles might remain tantalizingly out of reach for major manufacturers, but electric cars are well and truly part of the mainstream already. It is no longer surprising to see electric-charging stations in remote outposts. In the United Kingdom alone, the number of charging points has skyrocketed from just over 5,000 in 2016 to around 25,000 today, with new points being put into use every single day.
While the numbers themselves are still dwarfed by those still using old-fashioned petrol and diesel cars, the demand for electric cars is growing all the time. More and more drivers are looking to stay ahead of the curve and to reduce their carbon footprint while they do it, and the remarkable improvements made by electric vehicles have made this more achievable than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic caused the light vehicle market to take a major hit, as financial fears and a reduced need saw car sales drop dramatically, with global sales down some 20 to 25%. It remains to be seen what the long-term damage is to the electric vehicle industry (if any), but changing government policy and societal approaches in the wake of the pandemic seem likely to shift an ever-increasing focus on sustainable mobility. Electric vehicles are very much here to stay.
Implementing smart mobility solution within cities
The final smart mobility trend to focus on harks back to thoughts on open mobility and the smart mobility ecosystem. How will cities implement smart mobility solutions, and will they be successful in doing so? The dream of the smart city is not new, but its continued presence in ideological discussions suggests it remains out of reach for the majority of centers around the world. This is because the concept itself has been approached speculatively, a sleek slogan used to fit how modern cities want to view themselves. 2021 presents a different approach, however, and the concept of a smart city is ready to be taken seriously.
Smart mobility is an integral part of the smart city concept. The increasingly complex challenges posed by rapid urbanization and growing population make embracing smart mobility software a must. It has become ever more important to move people through the city in an ever-efficient manner while transporting goods smoothly and developing an infrastructure that makes digital solutions possible. The chaos of 2020 has given way to new ideas and a growing interest in innovation, and the development of smart mobility in the cities of the world could be the smart mobility trend of 2021 that makes the most noise.