Mobility: How do we travel in the future?

The car is generally seen as a symbol for freedom and independence. But today the topic mobility continues to pose great challenges for all of us. What is the situation regarding safety, which technologies are used and how will we travel in the future? DEKRA solutions introduces different traffic models.

I can remember when there wasn’t an automobile in the world with brains enough to find its own way home. I chauffeured dead lumps of machines that needed a man’s hand at their controls every minute. Every year machines like that used to kill tens of thousands of people. The automatics fixed that. A positronic brain can react much faster than a human one, of course, and it paid people to keep hands off the controls. You got in, punched your destination and let it go its own way.”
At the time, the scenario depicted by Russian-American author Isaac Asimov in his short story “Sally” was hard to believe. Written in the year 1953, the realization of self-driving cars was the stuff of daydreams and the motorcar was only just coming into its heyday. The latter promised independence and freedom, and a leap in motorization that also greatly contributed to reversing the economic fortunes of many nations in those post-war years. Streets were open and free – traffic jams were more or less unheard of.

“Free mobility for free citizens”

Reviewing the development from the 1950s to the modern day, Prof. Andreas Knie from the Innovation Center for Mobility and Societal Change in Berlin talks of three main phases. In phase one, the motorcar could be regarded as a ‘steel incarnation’ of a society whose slogan rang: “free mobility for free citizens.” Anybody could own a car, allowing them to travel wherever their hearts desired. As a short aside, these years also saw a massive increase in the number of road deaths, peaking in Germany in 1970 with 21,332 and in France in 1972 with 18,034 fatalities. The implementation of speed limits on country roads – where the majority of traffic casualties still occur across the EU – as well as reductions to blood-alcohol limits and introductions of fines for not wearing seat-belts began a sustained reversal of this trend in following years.

Safety gains: In a fully-networked future, vehicles and transport systems could allow more and more of their technology to be monitored externally via a data connection. Grafik: Mario Wagner/2Agenten

Safety gains: In a fully-networked future, vehicles and transport systems could allow more and more of their technology to be monitored externally via a data connection. Grafik: Mario Wagner/2Agenten

Introducing frameworks

From the 1990s – well into phase two – realization was slowly dawning that the increase in traffic was a big problem that was only going to get bigger, both for people and the environment. We are now in phase three. “Individual mobility with private vehicles must be completely re-imagined,” states Knie with vigor. It is a political imperative that the frameworks and conditions necessary for intelligent and efficient networking of different modes of transport be implemented at all levels. Only this will allow both passenger and freight traffic to progress, and enable us to actively reduce congestion.

Diesel versus alternative drive technologies

Mobility as we know it – drive technology especially – is facing a period of radical transformation. While the European automotive industry was dominated by the diesel engine’s torque and frugality for decades, the technology is now threatened with extinction, especially if it doesn’t clean up its act. Many European cities including London, Paris, Oslo and Brussels have already tightened regulations on diesel vehicles that fail to adhere to the Euro 6 standard. China aims to go one step further in 2018, planning legally mandated quotas for electric cars. What will this mean for the drive technologies of the future? It’s clear-cut for Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Dudenhöffer from the CAR Center for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen: “Diesel has no chance. To effectively tackle the problem of nitrous oxides, we need to make massive headway in electric mobility.” He believes that many countries are already embarking on the right course. He highlights China, India and the US state of California as pioneers in this area, with France, the Netherlands and Norway also playing valuable roles. The cause is aided by the choice of more and more manufacturers to invest in electrifying their vehicle portfolios.

Keyword China

Focusing on China, it is envisaged that by 2020, five million electric vehicles will be on the country’s streets – at the end of 2016, the International Energy Agency IEA estimated there to be around 650,000. “The introduction of greater numbers of electric vehicles provides new challenges for suppliers, manufacturers, workshops and testing organizations,” explains Stan ­Zurkiewicz, DEKRA Chief Regional Officer East Asia. These include ensuring safe operation, the unequivocal identification of faults and malfunctions – especially when it comes to the high-voltage system – as well as the safe maintenance of electric vehicles. “Only when this is guaranteed can maximum market acceptance be achieved,” he continues. For this reason, DEKRA operates a specialist laboratory in ­Jiading, a district of Shanghai. In addition to charging stations, key components of the electric drives themselves are tested here. In collaboration with the China Quality Certification Center (CQC), the laboratory is also developing standards for electric vehicles’ cabling and connecting elements.

Electric vehicles aroung the world. Source: IEA

Electric vehicles aroung the world. Source: IEA

Successful field tests

Despite all the euphoria surrounding electromobility, the vilification of the diesel motor is unjust, according to experts such as Dr. Uwe Wagner from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology: “The future of such drive systems is being wrongly condemned. The media is one of the main culprits – failing to present the issue in full, and jumping to wrong conclusions.” Of course, even modern diesels exert massive influence over nitrous oxide levels in urban areas. Implemented in September 2017, the “Euro 6d-TEMP” standard measures a vehicle’s emissions both on the roller dynamometer and in real-life traffic situations. It represents a considerable improvement over vehicles produced to the previous standard. “Vehicles that comply with this new norm have been enjoying success for over a year now,” explains Wagner. “Measurements have shown that nitrous oxide emissions are far below 120 milligrams, and in some cases even below 40 milligrams per kilometer.”

Increasing urbanization demands new transport concepts

More and more people live in urban areas, and the number of megacities with over ten million residents is growing. Only the implementation of sustainable mobility concepts will prevent total gridlock and reduce both noise and pollution. According to a UN prognosis, two thirds of the Earth’s projected population of 9.8 billion people will live in cities by 2050. Back in 1950, that figure was just one third. Should the global degree of motorization double, as it may – from today’s 140 up to 280 cars per 1,000 of the population – the global passenger car fleet will grow from approximately 1.05 billion to 2.75 billion vehicles in 2050.

Holistic approaches

“While the issue of local pollution can be solved through alternative drive concepts, this purely technical approach to developing the motorcar does not address the issue of over-congestion,” points out scientist Simon Funke of the Fraunhofer Institute for System and Innovation Research ISI in Karlsruhe. Solving traffic issues requires a holistic approach and implementation of modern-day innovations both technical and non-technical in nature.

Mobility as a service

What such approaches could look like has been the topic of intense research by Fraunhofer innovation cluster “REM 2030” in recent years. Testament to the fact that non-technical innovations can shape our mobility in future are the countless sharing concepts, bike rentals and other systems that are already part and parcel of modern mobility, asserts Funke. Mobility in such cases can be regarded as a service, uncoupled from vehicle ownership. There is also great scope for innovation in inter- and multimodality – the usage of different modes of transport depending on trip purpose. In one scenario, “REM 2030” envisages a trio of vehicle concepts providing efficient mobility: electric bikes for short distances, specially developed micro-cars for urban travel, and conventional vehicles for longer distances.

Smartly linked: To your chosen means of transport via an app. Grafik: Mario Wagner/2Agenten

Smartly linked: To your chosen means of transport via an app. Grafik: Mario Wagner/2Agenten

Car sharing as an option

Car-sharing projects have been ascribed great future potential when it comes to easing congestion in urban areas. Many car manufacturers have already jumped on this bandwagon. The Smart Cars and Minis from car-sharing giants car2go and DriveNow allude to a shift in attitudes to mobility in cities throughout Europa and around the world. Volkswagen has even initiated a project in Rwanda, through which it will offer new mobility concepts, and Volvo intends to launch an international car-sharing service in the near future. The Boston Consulting Group detailed their expectation that the number of users of such services will grow six-fold between 2015 and 2021 in their study “What’s Ahead for Car Sharing? The New Mobility and its Impact on Vehicle Sales.” A staggering 1.5 billion minutes of driving will be racked up by an estimated 35 million users each month. The biggest international markets are currently Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America.

Road safety has top priority

Another sharing concept that experts see as having considerable future potential is ride sharing. This involves the creation of ad-hoc carpools to travel in a private car from A to B. Of course, passengers are bound to wonder about the roadworthiness of the car that they are getting into. While data from traffic accident research repeatedly indicates that human error is the main cause of crashes resulting in personal injury and/or property damage, vehicle faults are also occasionally implicated in serious accidents.

Consistency means safety

Periodic vehicle inspections – as offered by DEKRA in many countries – therefore play an important role. In recognition of this fact, DEKRA Automotive and ride-sharing system BlaBlaCar, with 45 million users Europe‘s biggest carpooling community, started a rather special initiative in France in May 2017. Any of the 11 million users in France who is registered as a vehicle owner, and has provided at least one journey via the platform in the last six months, is eligible for a 20 percent discount on a general vehicle inspection at participating DEKRA, NORISKO Auto and AUTO­CONTROL centers in France. “The partnership with BlaBlaCar fits in perfectly with our many initiatives for increased road safety in France,” asserts Karine Bonnet, Directrice Générale Adjointe Réseau, Marketing et Ventes of DEKRA Automotive S.A.S., based in the Parisian suburb of Trappes. In light of the increasing complexity of technology, we need to ensure that all active, passive and integral safety systems work without fail for the entire life of the vehicle they are installed in. Only when this is guaranteed can their full potential be realized.

Large regional differences in accident frequency

Developments in recent years demonstrate that there is a great deal of work to be done in improving road safety. As can be read in the DEKRA Road Safety Report 2017, the EU trend is generally positive – between 1991 and 2016, the number of traffic fatalities sank more or less continuously by 66 percent, from 75,426 to 25,500. In contrast, 2016 saw an unwelcome development in the USA, with more people dying in road accidents than in previous years. According to the National Safety Council, over 40,000 road users lost their lives. Compared with 2015 – with 35,100 traffic fatalities – this equates to an increase of 15 percent. This development is made even more dramatic when one realizes that the USA had already seen a 7.2 percent increase from 2014 to 2015. These two years represent the biggest increase in road deaths in over 50 years.

Widespread stagnation

Viewed on a global scale, this is but a fraction of the 1.25 million people that lose their lives in road traffic each year according to the “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015,” published by the WHO. Progress in reducing this huge number has stagnated in recent years, and discrepancies between regions remain immense. While the number of traffic fatalities has been dropping fairly consistently for decades in most industrial nations, it is increasing in many emerging and developing countries. According to the WHO, approximately 90 percent of all road deaths occur in countries with low to medium incomes, despite the fact that only 54 percent of the world’s vehicles are found there.

Less accidents thanks to intelligent systems

The use of mobile phones while driving has been a growing road safety hazard for years. A study published in November 2016 by the Allianz Center for Technology (AZT) claims that one in ten fatal accidents in Germany are caused by distraction through smartphones, navigation systems or other manually-operated devices present in the car. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites similar figures for the USA. It is not just drivers that should be wary of distraction by smartphone; pedestrians are also commonly distracted. This was the finding of a DEKRA investigation across six European capitals. The risk is especially high when crossing the road. ­Clemens Klinke, Board Member of DEKRA SE and responsible for the Automotive business unit: “Many pedestrians underestimate the hazards that they subject themselves to when they allow themselves to become distracted from unfolding traffic situations around them.” In recognition of these issues, DEKRA’s accident researchers encourage the adoption of driver assistance systems that minimize the consequences of distraction. These include lane assist, vehicle distance and emergency braking systems.

Innovative FAS as a standard

Their ability to avert accidents has been proven in countless studies and investigations, for a range of traffic situations. As many as one in two accidents could be prevented or reduced in severity by equipping driver assistance systems as standard. With regards to achieving the ultimate goal of “Vision Zero” – no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic accidents – these electronic helpers are indispensable integral safety elements.

Road infrastructure solutions

Infrastructure also holds a key role in road traffic safety. A range of measures can be adopted to optimize safety potential, ranging from reducing hazards by adding mirrors to blind entrances, to maintaining road equipment and ensuring the safe condition of the road surface. Other approaches include installing speed cameras at accident hotspots, installing suitable barriers and redesigning certain sections of road to protect from tree collisions. New automated systems will also make an appearance. One innovation from Sweden is the intelligent “Actibump” system to reduce driver speed, such as outside schools. The system – developed by Edeva – uses radar to recognize vehicle speed, and should a ‘speedster’ be identified, a steel plate in the road surface drops six centimeters. The system has been shown to reduce the proportion of drivers breaking the speed limit in traffic-calmed zones from 70 to 20 percent.

Everything talks

Intelligent networking and digitalization both in vehicles and their environment will also play increasingly important roles in improving road safety. In this application, networking involves allowing cars to communicate both with each other and with road infrastructure, such as traffic lights and traffic management systems. So-called vehicle-
to-everything (v2x) communication both warns and informs drivers of possible hazardous situations along the route in a fraction of a second, even if they are as yet invisible to the driver. Highly- and fully-automated cars would be able to brake or change lane to avoid dangerous situations with sufficient clearance without driver input. This last example would be exactly the type of machine that Isaac Asimov astutely anticipated back 1953.

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