Autor | M. Martinez@EuklidiadasThe electric buzzing sound vibrated off the walls of the pavilion of the 1939 World’s Fair. Futurama (New York), the international exhibition that promised visitors a glance into the future of cities, presented the first autonomous vehicle in history. The audacity of the time made it electric and connected. Eight decades later, time has proved those inventors right, who were way ahead of their time. In the most populous cities in the world we have been testing different urban mobility concepts for a long while, and that first vehicle seems to bring together a considerable part of current trends. Connected, electric, autonomous, and consequently, shared vehicles. That is the future of urban mobility.
Cities that embrace electric mobilityThe greenhouse effect, increased by the contamination caused by our mobility habits, is greatly to blame for global warming which, in turn is leading to climate change. An even more pressing point is the fact that this contamination is toxic. Therefore, cities around the world are working on replacing the internal combustion engine with the electric engine.Amsterdam, Rome, Oviedo, Madrid, Barcelona, London… Many European cities have already restricted internal combustion traffic in city centres. Chengdu, Shanghai or Shenzhen are just some examples of this global phenomenon.The latter also introduced a complete fleet of electric buses at the end of 2017. According to official Shenzhen sources, a city with 12 million inhabitants has more than 16,000 electric buses (100%) and over 20,000 pure electric taxis (94.21% of all its taxis). This is just a small example of China’s leadership since, according to the World Economic Forum, around half the electric vehicles are sold in China and by 2025, they will make up one-fifth of the total national fleet.Cities such as Shenzhen (above) prove that the transition, which is much more gradual in the rest of the world, is possible. Most major cities are testing modest shared transport models to introduce electrification to their inhabitants. Others facilitate the use of electric transport (bikes, scooters, motorbikes) on the network to respond to the so-called “last mile” and prevent people from using private vehicles.
Autonomous mobility is hereWhen we mention autonomous vehicles, we think of cars and science fiction. Yes, robotic cars are more stable than motorbikes and easier to handle than vans or buses and therefore they are becoming the standard in robotic mobility. However, they stopped being just a fantasy a long time ago.Arizona, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania joined Singapore in 2018, which has been testing robotic taxis for a long while. They are not the only large cities to allow them, as illustrated by Paris or Madrid. NuTonomy, Waymo, NAVYA, Zoox, Didi, Uber, Ford, EasyMile or May Mobility are just some of the most popular brands in this market. But certainly not the only ones.In 2015, nuTonomy tested its first autonomous vehicle in Singapore and in 2016 it provided users with the ability to hail one of its vehicles via an app. At the end of 2018, Waymo opened and extended this strategy with some residents in Phoenix. This system is particularly interesting as it provides mobility for the elderly, people with visual impairments and children who are incapable of getting around independently at the moment.Furthermore, combined with electrification, autonomous vehicles include benefits not offered by other models, such as lower accident rates -the skill of robot vehicles is additive- and improved efficiency. These advantages compared with conventional mobility are three-fold:
- A lower number of autonomous and shared vehicles will free the streets of parked vehicles. According to most sources, private cars are parked 95% of their useful life.
- Robotic taxis will be driven in a much more moderate and less aggressive manner than by people. Accelerating and braking, even with electric vehicles, uses energy that can be avoided when the car in which we are travelling knows the route and speed of all other nearby vehicles.
- Likewise, there is consensus from most sources that the combination of autonomous and shared mobility will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80%. For this to be possible, vehicles must be connected.