The future of 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 for the future and shows how self-driving cars, the ‘naked passenger’ and more could turn the cities of the future, and our lives, upside down.

18 August, 2021

An idea only becomes an innovation if it is at least 10 times better than anything that has existed before

#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 this also applies to a company. 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 in doing so, to stay a step ahead of the competition.

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 to improve existing technologies. An idea only becomes an innovation if it is at least 10 times better than anything that has existed before. 

For example, reducing a car’s fuel consumption to three litres per 100 kilometres would require the optimisation of existing technologies. It would count as an innovation if a car could drive 1000 kilometres on the same amount of fuel. And to do that, everything would have to be completely rethought. So, innovation means radical change of an entire market, where the development 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. 

#2: Smart cities and shared mobility – the ‘2–50–75–80’ formula

Given that 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, 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 with that aim at its heart.

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 optimising traffic flow. With automated intersection management, for instance, vehicles organise 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 synchronise 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.

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

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.

But 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.

If our cities were just a little more efficient, the global impact would be substantial

“Children born today will no longer drive cars themselves”

Sacha Vrazic, Director of Autonomous Driving, Rimac Automobili

#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.

But 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 ‘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 will 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 Audi 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.

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

A smooth transition from one transport system to the next – with no wallet, no mobile 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 organising 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. 

So, while distances, journey times, social factors and environmental influences can be expressed in numbers, 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.