Theses on the future mobility

When you think of mobility, you probably think of a car, a bike, or a bus. But the term means much more than just that. Audi takes a look at five central scenarios and shows how self-driving cars, the “naked passenger” and more could turn the city of the future (and our lives) topsy-turvy.

07/05/2019 Reading Time: 9 min

What do Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the 17-year old robotics expert Anna Nixon and the women’s rights activist Fatima Bhutto have in common? They are all concerned with mobility. And it has not only spatial and temporal components, but social and sustainability as well. Experts for artificial intelligence (AI), city planners, automotive designers and entrepreneurs are asking themselves questions like: what will our reality look like in the future? Or: how valuable is data, really? Answers become theories — and they all sketch out spectacularly how technology will turn our whole lives upside down.

#1: New technology - flexibility is the new intelligence

After intelligence and emotions, flexibility is now one of the most important characteristics of a human being, and of a company, too. Even now, we are facing the question of how we move ourselves efficiently through space, time and society on a daily basis.

We have to adapt increasingly quickly to change and use it to our benefit. It’s therefore hardly surprising that the pace at which new technologies are becoming part of our lives is also increasing. At the end of the 19th century, it took decades for the telephone to reach 25 percent of American households, while the smartphone achieved that in less than five years.

In today’s world, the capability to adapt quickly to new things has evolved to become a core competence. That applies to people as well as to companies. A high degree of flexibility is important for companies to participate in defining the speed at which new technologies are developed, and thus stay a step ahead of the competition.

An oldtimer in communication technology: the cable phone. During the 19th century it took decades for a quarter of the US households to own a telephone – the smartphone needed less than five years to achieve the same numbers.
An oldtimer in communication technology: the cable phone. During the 19th century it took decades for a quarter of the US households to own a telephone – the smartphone needed less than five years to achieve the same numbers.

Moonshot Thinking for innovations

When discussing flexibility in the development process, it’s hard not to talk about X. Against the backdrop that nothing is impossible, the research department of Google parent company, Alphabet, pursues what it calls Moonshot Thinking. This is based on the notion that it’s not enough simply to improve existing technologies. An idea only becomes an innovation if it is at least ten times better than anything that has existed before.

By way of example: Reducing a car’s fuel consumption to three liters per 100 kilometers would require the optimization of existing technologies. It would count as an innovation if a car could drive 1,000 kilometers on the same amount of fuel. And to do that, everything would have to be completely rethought. So, innovation means radical chance of an entire market, where the development focus lies not on the technology or the product or the underlying conditions. The focus is entirely on the problem. To achieve a solution often requires re-thinking or lateral thinking. Because Moonshot Thinking is a means to an end.

However, the same principle always applies: To be able to anticipate and use change, companies have to create structures in which they can act flexibly. This is the only way they will be able to keep pace with the speed of innovation development, because everything we can imagine will become reality. And as Mo Gawdat from X says: ‘Either you build it or someone else will.

Mo Gawdat

"Take nothing for granted", says Mo Gawdat. He is CBO at X, the research department of Google parent company, Alphabet. He has already co-founded more than 15 companies in various sectors and looks back on a career with IBM Egypt, NCR Abu Dhabi and Microsoft. Beyond that, he is active as a board member in a number of start-ups in technology, health and consumer goods. Gawdat is the author of the highly acclaimed book, Solve for Happy.

#2: Smart cities and shared mobility – the “2–50–75–80” formula

Four numbers, one major global challenge: 50 percent of humanity lives on just two percent of the earth’s surface, consumes 75 percent of the world’s energy and is responsible for 80 percent of its emissions. Conversely, that means if our cities were just a little more efficient, the global impact would be substantial. Shared mobility, autonomous vehicles and the Internet of Things can turn a city into a smart city.

Shared mobility, for example, could noticeably reduce traffic and air pollution in cities. Carlo Ratti from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has the perfect example: Just 30 percent of the vehicles in Singapore would be necessary to meet the mobility needs of its population. In theory, a further 40 percent could be removed if passengers were prepared to cover similar routes together.

Autonomous cars could make a further contribution by optimizing traffic flow. With automated intersection management, for instance, vehicles organize themselves in accordance with the first come, first served principle, without the need for lights hindering traffic flow. Everything runs via car-to-x communication.

In another example, large quantities of energy are wasted right now in heating and cooling empty buildings. The Internet of Things could help synchronize climate control in offices and apartments with the presence of human beings. However, the success of smart city concepts is heavily dependent upon social acceptance. It is therefore important to involve society in the discourse by allowing people to experiment with these concepts.

Carlo Ratti

is an architect, engineer, inventor and professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he heads up the Senseable City Lab, a research group that examines how new technologies change the way we understand, design and live in cities. He was included byWired Magazine in the 'Smart List: 50 People Who Will Change the World'.

 

#3: Connectivity — the internet is the biggest nation on earth

Access to technology means access to knowledge and education. Technology thus fuels our social mobility, enabling us to further ourselves and participate. For Steve Wozniak, the best Apple invention of all was not the iPhone, but the third-party App Store. It gave millions of people the opportunity to create something from nothing and make it available to others. Extrapolating this, you could also say that the one thing that connects the majority of the 7.5 billion people in the world across borders and religions is the internet.

Two hands taking a photo with a smartphone
The biggest nation on earth: the internet. More than 7.5 billion people worldwide have access to the world wide web.

However, Afghan journalist Fatima Bhutto sees these technologies not only as a positive thing. The reason is that, while they may be creating change in third-world countries, they are not necessarily resulting in upward mobility: “Platforms like the internet are founded on weak bonds, because they demand little from those who participate in them. “A phenomenon recognized by most people active on social networks is that many users have contacts or even friends all over the world and learn a great deal in the process. And that’s a good thing. The images they see have an impact, they generate awareness. But very few of them ever act on that.

And if you think that 6.4 billion people in the world have access to a smartphone, but only four billion have access to a toilet, it becomes clear that there is still a great deal to do. It will take quite some time and demand considerable commitment for a similar level of social dynamism fired by technology to take root in developing countries.

Fatima Bhutto

"Platforms like the internet are founded on weak bonds, because they demand little from those who participate in them", says Fatima Bhutto. She is an Afghan writer and journalist. Born the daughter of the Pakistani dynasty, she lost her parents at an early age and grew up in exile. She wrote her first book at the age of 15 and since then has been campaigning on behalf of minorities, especially in the Middle East.

 

#4: We’re overestimating autonomous driving in the short term and underestimating it in the long term

“Children born today will no longer drive cars themselves,” says Sacha Vrazic, Director of Autonomous Driving at supplier, Rimac Automobili. This technology is the future of our mobility and it will change our lives massively.

However, the road there is lined with open questions and obstacles that have to be overcome. It starts with integration into today’s traffic – who adapts to whom? The city to the car or the car to the city? Another question to be addressed is how autonomous vehicles will interact with supposedly “normal” cars. Will some cars have right of way? That would be one possibility.

 

At the same time, adaptation of the technology to different markets is a challenge that would be hard to overstate. Traffic does not flow and stop around the world in quite such an orderly manner as it does in central Europe. Preparing even Level 3 functions like the Audi AI traffic jam pilot in the new A8 for traffic in Beijing or New Delhi is a huge task. And even Apple guru, Steve Wozniak, asks what the benefit of Level 3 and Level 4 actually is if you as the driver have to be prepared to take back control of the wheel.

 

Sacha Vrazic

He leads the development of autonomous driving for Croatian supplier Rimac Automobili. He is the author of many publications and is an expert in machine learning and artificial intelligence. As such, he works tirelessly for social change.

 

#5: The ‘naked passenger’ is the future of mobility

A smooth transition from one transport system to the next – with no wallet, no cell phone, no ticket. This vision of seamless transport is what Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, describes as the “naked passenger”.

The idea is not to use data for maximum transparency, but to make organizing the transition from one transport system to the next as smooth as possible. Right now, switching from one means of transport to another can sometimes take more time than the actual traveling itself.

Dirk Ahlborn

"Mobility is working when you no longer notice it", says Dirk Ahlborn. He is CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. He is known for his outside-the-box approach, a strategy designed to breathe new life into companies with the aid of a paradigm shift. To do this, he relies on the full power of crowd collaboration, the internet and exponentially growing technologies.

Future cities — is mobility measurable?

Certainly, distances, journey times, social factors and environmental influences can be expressed in numbers. However, if we want to understand mobility in its entirety and draw conclusions from that for our future, this is not enough. That alone shows that the understanding of mobility must be fundamentally rethought. Mobility is not only something that can be created, but also something that can happen on its own – every day and all over the world.

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