Feature: A glimpse into the future without science fiction

What will the transportation landscape look like in 2030? Will there only be self-driving cars on the road? Will the sky be populated with air taxis and delivery drones? What will it mean for our cities and rural areas? Questions about the mobility of tomorrow are subject to lively debate today – the 2021 “SocAIty” study outlines a vision of the future without science fiction.
Collage of illustraitions of people with mobile devices, cars and car interieur

2030: An autonomous mobility revolution in small steps

Autonomous driving has sounded like science fiction for a long time. In fact, engineers and technicians have been working on automation and driver assistance systems since the 1940s. In the past 30 years, research and development has made considerable advances in this area. Market-ready models are frequently topics of discussion. Visionary images of cities with are consistently shown exclusively self-driving cars and buses cruising along unclogged, pristine streets and avenues and acting in perfect coexistence with tram systems, pedestrians, and transport robots. No, the mobility landscape of 2030 will not be quite so harmonious and rosy. In ten years, the infrastructure will still be largely the same.

View of the sky through the panoramic roof of an Audi concept car

“I think that there will be more options in the future. It will be more fractured than it is today. And obviously there is more variety of modes available that are kind of just coming to the fore.”

Pete Bigelow, Senior Reporter, Automotive News

Chart Market Development Shared Mobility

The market for mobility offerings will be more fragmented than it is today. Particularly in urban areas, shared mobility offerings and digitally networked mobility services will be widespread. However, that does not mean that private transportation and the car are going to massively lose significance. Cars will still shape the mobility landscape. Particularly in rural regions, but also in suburban areas and cities, the availability of a personal car – whether it be bought, leased, or available some other way – will still offer greater flexibility and comfort in the future. In addition, the car will continue to symbolize freedom and individuality.

“This isn’t a case of revolution, but rather evolution. Step by step in a direction that’s already becoming clear.”

Eric Hilgendorf, Lawyer, legal philosopher & former Member of the German Ethics Commission, Chair of the Department of Criminal Law/ Justice, Legal Theory, Inf. & Computer Science Law, University of Würzburg

Asian looking woman with umbrella approaches a zebra crossing

But what will the cars of the near future look like? And above all, how – or by whom – will they be driven? Autonomous driving will change our mobility landscape somewhat incrementally. Initially, it is very likely that driver assistance systems will penetrate very deeply into private transportation. Functions like highway or traffic assistance will increase. Nonetheless, most cars of tomorrow will still be driven by people – particularly in complex traffic situations like urban traffic. Consequently, the vision of a “relaxing drive,” in which all occupants can recline their seats, will remain a vision of the future even in 2030.


However, autonomous mobility systems are on the rise around the world. Freight and delivery transportation are taking a leading role in this. Delivery drones, fully automated systems for rail traffic or trucks with intelligent driver assistance systems are all conceivable. The potential for greater safety, sustainability, and efficiency is enormous. There are also applications for local public transit: it is highly likely that autonomous shuttles will become a reality – but primarily in defined areas with fixed routes with what are known as Automated People Movers.

Audi e-tron S Sportback: Power consumption (combined) in kWh/100 km: 28.1–25.7CO₂ emissions (combined) in g/km: 0CO₂ emission class: A

Audi e-tron S Sportback: Power consumption (combined) in kWh/100 km: 28.1–25.7CO₂ emissions (combined) in g/km: 0CO₂ emission class: A

Another application that we will see more of in 2030 in cities in Europe, North America, and China is robotaxis. Some experts believe that large fleets will already be on the road in 2030, while others say that will come later. It primarily depends on technical developments like a widespread 5G network, cloud edge computing, and quantum computing.

“You will see certain areas like city centers, universities, large campuses, retirement communities etc. where you're going to have autonomous driving Level 4-5. But I think, that we are going to see a lot of geofencing in those environments.”

Deborah Hersman, Former Chairman & Board Member, U.S. National Transportation Safety Board Ex-Waymo, Ex-Velodyne Lidar

In 2030, mobility will be characterized by a new kind of mixed traffic. It will involve both autonomous cars as well as vehicles driven by people. Among other things, this scenario will depend on whether and how well autonomous systems can respond to irrational human behavior. The cars of the future will presumably have access to various driving modes that can be activated or available depending on the location. A particular automation level could even be required depending on the area in which a vehicle is driving. The technology for delineating different zones, known as geofencing, already exists and is used in other areas today, such as personalized, local marketing.

“The US often takes on the role of incubator; it breaks new ground early on. In China, on the other hand, new technology is often quickly rolled out and scaled across the board.”

Uta Klawitter, Head of General Counsel Legal Services, AUDI AG

Demand for mobility offerings will also increasingly be determined by a person’s location in 2030. In large cities, similar needs increasingly prevail: places like New York, London, and Shanghai have comparable basic conditions and their residents have similar needs with respect to mobility, flexibility, and customer expectations. The US is regarded as a driving force behind automated driving technology. Not all new technologies will necessarily be primarily developed there, but they will be put on the road with the help of capital and expertise


Germany and Europe will primarily be sites of innovation in vehicle technology and high-volume production, but will also continue to play an important role as sales markets. In all likelihood, European consumer rights and data protection regulations will therefore influence general conditions and product standards in the industry around the world. On the other hand, China is seen as a trailblazer in scaling and widespread technology penetration. The reasons for this include a determined expansion of infrastructure and a high degree of social appreciation for new technologies.


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