Bruce Chatwin famously wrote that "the real home of man is not his house, but the road". Even if you do not agree with him that life is a journey better done by foot, there is no doubt mobility has been a driving force in the history of human development. From the invention of the wheel to the construction of bridges and roads, from the trireme of the ancient Greeks to the modern jets, humans have always been on the move to communicate and exchange ideas as well as goods.
In modern times, increasing urbanisation brought about traffic congestion – particularly in countries like India, China, and Brazil - and with it pollution, fatalities and economic damage in lost hours and delays.
According to the World Bank, 1.3 million people die each year in traffic-related incidents, with young people being the most affected.
According to figures by the United Nations, 55% of the world population today lives in urban areas, a figure that is expected to reach 68% by 2050. At the same time, transport data company INRIX found that in the United States, the world’s number one economy, the total cost of lost productivity caused by traffic congestion amounted to $87 billion last year. The same source reports that in China one of its most congested cities, Hangzhou, tackled the problem and dramatically reduced congestion by developing an AI-assisted system to monitor and manage the flow of traffic.
In the past urban developers tackled congestion by simply building more physical infrastructure. Today more and more cities around the world are responding to mobility challenges by adding wireless technology and AI to integrate all modes of transportation and thus enable residents to choose among a vast array of transportation: from ride-sharing to car-sharing, walking, biking, public transportation and more.
With traffic, public health crisis and safety as the major forces behind the smart mobility revolution, Lukas Neckermann, author of "Smart Cities, Smart Mobility" identifies solutions based on a "three zeros vision": zero emissions, zero accidents and zero ownership. It is a revolution impacting not only the automotive industry, but also public transports, utilities, construction and logistics.
Smart mobility is a new approach based on efficiency, safety, clean technology, but also flexibility and integration, with a full route planned using different mode of transportation.
Each city can become a "smart city" by adopting different options to deal with traffic congestion. Paris for example has the largest bike-sharing system in Europe, while Barcelona has the largest in Spain. In the Unites States Columbus, Ohio, chose to collect and analyse traffic data and is becoming the first smart city in the country.
Singapore developed a Smart Mobility 2030 strategic plan to outline strategies and initiatives that are essential to implement its Intelligent Transport System (ITS). The idea is to make the transport system informative, interactive, safe and green.
The impact of artificial intelligence will be increasingly significant both on the automotive industry - with the development of autonomous cars - and in the mobility sector. According to Microsoft, by 2025 all cars will be connected, becoming "data centres on wheels": sending and receiving vast amount of data. AI will thus allow to reduce accidents, help people use real time data to plan their journey according to demand and capacity; improve maintenance by predicting potential failure and bring improvements to the logistics industry by tracking operator patterns.
With a world population predicted to increase to almost 10 billion by 2050 and urban congestion greatly contributing to greenhouse emissions, the "smart approach" to mobility becomes more and more urgent if we want to make our cities more sustainable.
On a wider scale, sustainable, smart mobility is also essential in our fight against poverty. As Hartwig Schafer, vice president of the World Bank for South Asia writes (https://blogs.worldbank.org/transport/why-sustainable-mobility-matters):
“Without access to sustainable mobility, it will be much harder—if not impossible— to end poverty and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. (…). For this to happen “road safety and sustainable mobility for all are keystone issues in the development agenda, and that investment that enables physical and virtual mobility spurs the kind of economic growth from which everyone benefits”.