The future of urban mobility

Two major automotive themes at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) were urban mobility and connected cars. “Connected car” took on one of two meanings: how future cars will integrate with technology in our lives or how they will connect to a network of vehicles and the surrounding environment. The latter was more interesting and ties in well with the burgeoning interest in “urban mobility,” which focuses on what transportation will look like in cities of the future.

Top global executives and the U.S. Transportation Secretary  discussed how technology is changing mobility in urban areas. The Beyond Smart Cities: The Future of Urban Mobility keynote panel at CES  (the world’s gathering place for all who thrive on the business of consumer technologies)  focused on possibilities in the near future, including autonomous cars and buses, on-demand shuttles and more. 

The keynote panel was moderated by Kent Larson, Director, Changing Places Group, MIT Media Lab and panelists were:

  • Dr. Volkmar Denner, CEO and CTO, Robert Bosch GmbH
  • Secretary Anthony Foxx, U.S. Department of Transportation
  • Steve Mollenkopf, CEO, Qualcomm Incorporated
  • Prof. Amnon Shashua, Co-Founder, CTO and Chairman, Mobileye

The tech members of the panel discussed a network of Dedicated Short-Range Communication (DSRC) sensors installed in the cars as well as objects around the city, such as light posts, buildings, and signs. This would allow the cars to communicate not only with each other, but also with the inanimate objects that can relay information and give the cars a very detailed picture of current road conditions. These sensors would work in unison with the other sensors and cameras in the car to allow it to navigate around the city.

A network like that, of course, would require a huge investment in urban infrastructure. Secretary Foxx discussed theSmart City Challenge initiated by the Department of Transportation. This program encourages cities to submit proposals about how they plan to alleviate stress on their transportation infrastructure using technology. The winning proposal will get $40 million in funding to implement those ideas, as well as an additional $10 million from private-industry partner Vulcan Philanthropy to support the deployment of electric vehicles and other CO2 reduction plans.

Forty million dollars is likely not enough to truly connect vehicles to cities, but the competition is a hopeful sign that federal and local governments are attempting to understand technology’s role in cities and are partnering with the private sector to do so. When asked, Secretary Foxx expressed concern that technological innovation in this area will outpace the government’s ability to draw up relevant policies. There are so many unanswered questions about the safety and logistics of autonomous driving that slow policy can have be significant impediment to a successful rollout.

According to the keynote moderator, in spite of all this great technology, autonomous driving can actually overtax city infrastructure if the car ownership model remains private. He posits that future cities will need a shared ownership model to truly realize the benefits of autonomous vehicles.




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