Faced with the dual challenge of facilitating travel while fighting traffic congestion and air pollution, the cities of the future must evolve to offer their increasing numbers of inhabitants a better quality of life and become sustainable.
According to the World Economic Forum, 70% of the global population will live, work, and travel in cities by 2050. The organization explains that mobility and energy will be two fundamental elements in order for this transition to take place, all while continuing to offer a satisfactory quality of life to citizens. A world of possibilities will open up, and urban transport systems must not forget the three essential elements of tomorrow’s vehicles: electric, connected, and autonomous.
This will enable them to be part of an urban ecosystem that optimizes travel and energy management, all while reinventing mobility and modes of transport. The relevant parties are currently hard at work designing the cities of the future, preparing for budding megalopolises, and perfecting the ideal city.
The cities of the future will be intelligent, equipped with connected infrastructures and multiple transportation networks that coordinate with one another. The member countries of the European Union have just decided that the future 5G network will be, along with Wi-Fi technology, one of the ways that vehicles, infrastructures, and users of soft mobility will be able to communicate, thus allowing for the smooth sharing of information.
Some of its benefits include instant signal, the ability to handle signals from a large number of users in the same area, and very high speeds. These qualities are at the forefront of the 5GAA, the 5G Automotive Association, of which Groupe Renault is a part.
In cities, the use of connected vehicles will also allow local governments to coordinate access to different lanes, traffic flow (with stoplights), tailbacks, construction and other incidents, as well as managing parking spots. They will thus have all the necessary data at their immediate disposal. This applies not only to privately owned individual vehicles, but also to autonomous vehicles and the robot taxis of the future. Renault’s electric concept vehicle, the EZ-POD, designed for short distances, is a perfect example of a cross between individual mobility and public transport. Some of Renault’s other concepts designed for the future of mobility have already been unveiled, such as the EZ-PRO (for urban delivery,) the EZ-ULTIMO (for luxury travel,) and the EZ-GO (for driverless passenger transport.)
The key for the cities of the future is in intermodality. The many commuters who use a combination of the subway, shared vehicles (bicycles, scooters, cars, etc.), taxis, and ride-hail services in their everyday journeys are already familiar with the concept. This rapidly growing practice will develop even further with MaaS (Mobility as a Service) applications and the introduction of shared self-driving cars, shuttles and even autonomous drones.
Now considered vital for inhabitants, cities of the future are obliged take the environment into consideration. Access to city centers is increasingly restricted for combustion-powered vehicles, paving the way for zero emissions vehicles*. Between urban road tolls, pedestrianized zones and traffic restrictions, the maximum levels allowed for air pollution and CO2 emissions are being lowered, largely in order to create more sustainable cities. This is already the case for the city of Oxford, for example, which is a pioneer in the field.
The integration of electric vehicles into what is called the “smart grid” is one of the most important elements of energy management in cities of the future. The batteries used in electric vehicles will become an integral part of the power grid, able to store energy during production peaks and then return it to the grid at the opportune moment, either when demand is particularly high or when production is particularly low. This is called a V2G (Vehicle to Grid) system, and it allows for smart, two-way flow of power between vehicles and the power grid.
Charging solutions for electric vehicles are also expected to improve, thanks to different waves of technological advances. First of all, autonomous vehicles may be able to make their own way to charging stations. Charging robots would then be able to hook the vehicle up to the station. The next step would be for electric vehicles to charge while driving on specific road surfaces through induction. A conductive charging solution is being tested in the Paris region through a partnership between Renault, the Vedecom Institute and Qualcomm. The city of Oslo is also considering a rapid wireless charging system that taxis would be able to use when parked. Lastly, charging should become even faster with the introduction of new technologies such as hydrogen.
All these technological advances enabling connected travel in public spaces raise legitimate questions about individual freedom. Regulatory authorities will have to work with all parties involved to figure out how to respect privacy and regulate data protection when travelers use a mode of transport. Cybersecurity concerns must also be anticipated, with the risks of hacking that are implicit in a world of connected objects, which are even more prone to attack when in motion. Once these obstacles are overcome, connectivity will make mobility easier for all.
According to the World Economic Forum, the public transport landscape will be dramatically different by 2050. Mobility will work for all: electric vehicles will participate in the city’s energy management system, and autonomous vehicles will optimize their services and functions. In addition, inhabitants will be accustomed to intelligently-run, real-time multimodal travel thanks to the digitization of the system. An increasing number of smart cities will use technology to expand mobility and improve its users’ lives – for living, working and consuming – in city centers and their fringes.
*Neither atmospheric emissions of CO2 nor pollutants while driving (excluding wear parts)
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