Unchecked population growth, new smartphone and cloud-based technologies and growing concerns over climate change are altering the way we move around urbanised areas. According to the latest UN projections, within a decade, the planet will become home to 42 megacities of 10 million+ residents each. The speed of this shift will be unique to each major metropolitan area, of course, due to a variety of geographic and socioeconomic factors, but rest assured, by 2050, 2.5 billion people will have migrated to major cities the world over. Cities like Boston, Lyon and Montreal are at the cutting edge of new mobility … Bangalore, Lagos and Malaga, not so much. What techniques and technologies are these cities employing to deliver the sustainable mobility of the future? Courtesy of Michelin, we’re at the annual Movin’ On Summit in Montreal to find out and gain insight into the integrated smart cities of the future.
‘Solutions for a multimodal society’ is the buzz phrase at this year’s summit, with roundtable discussions by trusted industry leaders centring around how to optimise the value chains of not just personal transportation, but agricultural and freight as well. It’s only when considering the multimodal dilemma does one realise just how closely related mobility and real estate are, for example. If people lived closer to their place of work, or didn’t have to travel to work at all and rather work remotely, for instance, they’d spend less time commuting. The latest data from the City of Los Angeles suggests its citizens are spending one full year of their lives stuck in traffic. What the Movin’ On Summit hopes to do is find a more harmonious transport supply chain for cities; a reengineering of the way we move and exist.
One solution may come from the most unlikely of places, the number one cloud computing and customer relations management (CRM) company in the world, Salesforce. If you’ve used any e-hailing service like Uber or any smartphone-based service like Amazon for that matter, you’re a Salesforce customer. Talking to its President and Chief Strategy Office, Alex Dayon, ‘The future of mobility is not using more steel to build more cars, the future is to not sell more cars at all, but to rather monitor the use of the car and integrate that car and its data into the mobility ecosystem. It’s all about selling the next ride… whatever form that ride may take: a metro train, a ride-sharing vehicle or a bicycle for the last mile. And these modal patterns are not universal, they reflect each person’s mobility needs – whether they value convenience, eco-friendliness, luxury or speed let’s say.’
Dayon continues to explain that at the centre of this future-mobility plan are the cities themselves. In today’s current climate of app-based, e-hailing mobility, for example, it’s cities that are the most disconnected and who are losing out on potential revenue. Believe it or not, the number one revenue generator in major cities is still car-based, like toll roads, parking metres and traffic fines. ‘Cities have been slow to integrate the physical and digital worlds. Imagine if a city had its own cloud-based app with its own subscriptions, payment coupons or cryptocurrency. You know you’re going to be travelling to Montreal for this conference so you download the Montreal city app and it knows where you are, where you want to go and the best way to do it based on the physical and digital infrastructure available,’ Dayon concludes. At its core, the key to multimodal society is integration. At the moment, like the apps in our smartphone, everything operates in data silos. You want a lift, there’s Uber, you want to use public transport you’ll most likely Google the train or bus timetables, you want somewhere to stay you use Airbnb – what the future will bring is cross-platform data integration.
That’s the software, but what about good ol’ fashioned hardware like rubber? After all, as hard as Michelin pushes its investment from product to functionality, at its core it’s still a tyre manufacturer. The future is the Vision Concept Uptis tyre. Unveiled as the centrepiece of the Movin’ On Summit; Eric Vinesse, Head of Research and Development for Michelin, hails Uptis as, ‘A breakthrough … the next step in tyre technology.’ An airless, spoked structure (pictured here as a cut out) that’s 3D printed from biomaterial and is computer connected to the car. Essentially an evolution of the Michelin Tweel tyre, Uptis represents no wastage of raw material at all and will move into full-scale testing before going to market as soon as 2024. Michelin’s research suggests that 200 million tyres are discarded every year through punctures and/or irregular wear patterns. Do you want to know the average life of a tyre on the rough and tumble streets of China? Six months. That’s 200 million tonnes of rubber that would immediately be saved each year thanks to Uptis technology. The updated Tweel design uses next-generation fibreglass moulded into resin for lightness and greater reinforcement and is unique in its permanent marriage between tyre and aluminium wheel rim. Michelin trademarked more than 50 patents for its new technology, so there won’t be any cheap knockoffs between now and 2024.
The tyre uses broadly the same concept as Tweel, barring the advanced materials. Tweel’s structure was polyurethane-based, Uptis is a far superior construction. It has no commercial, off-road or high-performance application at this early stage, it will surely be a commuter car tyre rated to a maximum speed of 200 km/h and is expected to have the same lifespan as today’s pneumatic tyre. Air is obviously light and affords tyres the ability to be flexible and versatile, whereas the 70 spokes within Uptis that retain its shape do add weight. Wear performance is said to be a little heavier than current tyres but still more advantageous than the weight of carrying around a spare wheel/tyre. Michelin CEO, Florent Menegaux, answering questions after the big reveal says the tyre will not kill the market; it will do quite the opposite in fact. ‘Michelin has always been at the forefront of innovation and to develop a new technology and then deliberately turn our backs against the market is not what we’re about. We create the market, and we’ll do that again with Uptis,’ concludes Menegaux.
Turning attention back to mobility, what will the true catalyst for change be? Mindful, collaborative citizens doing their part for the greater good? Most people are still locked into the idea of a personal vehicle as a symbol of freedom, and how do you rationalise that someone’s mobility needs are of a higher priority than another’s? What about smarter vehicles like autonomous, electric cars that would decarbonise cities and relieve traffic congestion – a win-win scenario surely? The learnings from pilot projects currently underway in Boston, Lyon and Montreal help expand on the challenges facing autonomous cars (AVs). Hadi Zabilt, speaking on behalf of the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance is the first to admit that, ‘The expectation versus the reality of AVs is very skewed. This idea of autonomy leading to zero traffic accidents is totally unrealistic. Us as OEMs, we need to be risk-averse, it’s in our nature, and what is an acceptable level of risk for AVs?’ Zabilt adds that, ‘Another factor is cost, the alliance has so far spent upwards of $1.2 million per mile on its autonomy programme, so only collaborations across car companies to amortise cost will unlock the market.’
Then there’s the issue of the whether AVs are even going to solve congestion? It’s estimated that a third of all congestion is created by cars searching for parking. So if you create more harmonious parking solutions, you’re a third of the way to freeing up the city. Also, you’re going to want your autonomous car to be a good driver, not so? We’re not talking about a Michael-Schumacher clone but a good driver anticipates scenarios, acts quickly when required, and has a kind of ethical backbone in its decision making. If there is an accident and the question is asked why it happened, the AVs black box will have to be able to give a concise answer as to its decision-making algorithm.
At the end of the day, even the brightest minds say integrating AVs on the same piece of road with driver-operated cars is still decades away. AVs still need the safety of a geo-fenced environment in which to operate, which makes them no better than a train or tram system. But trust is a moving target, and with time that will shift. A decade ago we wouldn’t have dreamt of sharing our houses, hailing a ride, banking or dating online, now the trust is there. The undeniable truth is we need to realise the current mobility system that’s served us so well for the past 100 years just isn’t fit for purpose for the next 100 years.