Last month I was at the Consumer Electronics Show as Siemens showcased the innovations that will make up the mobility ecosystem of the future. We were fortunate to host Deputy Assistant Secretary of Transportation Finch Fulton at our booth. Mr. Fulton was there with Secretary Elaine Chao to unveil the department’s latest autonomous vehicles guidance publication – produced jointly with the White House Chief Technology Officer – titled “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies: AV 4.0.”
This publication intends to align government polices to prepare for a “complex and evolving” mobility ecosystem that “… holds tremendous promise to strengthen the U.S. economy and make life safer and more mobile for all Americans.”
But what will this ecosystem really look like?
A Complex and Evolving Ecosystem
Last year I worked with a small team of colleagues to identify the megatrends that will lead to the mobility landscape of 2030. We reviewed the literature and talked to a broad array of experts and practitioners —everyone from business leaders to academic researchers to our own colleagues at Siemens. We asked simple but important questions: What major trends and drivers will impact the mobility sector? What will be the key technology and innovation fields? What will it take for Siemens to lead this transition? How do we drive common and joint initiatives to ensure collaboration within our company and with our external partners?
The answers we collected uncovered a picture of the future: The megatrend of urbanization is driving us towards a more electrified, autonomous and shared multimodal mobility ecosystem. Here’s a look at what’s coming.
An Electrified Future
By 2030, we will see a massive increase in transportation electrification across modes of travel, from aviation to marine to rail and automobiles. Unique features of the U.S. market will drive us towards this transformation, such as an urbanizing population and concerns about the environmental impact of the transportation sector.
A More Autonomous Future
By 2030, there will be far greater use of autonomous technology. While we must manage our expectations somewhat — we did not find that every car on the road will be driverless or that every train will operate without an engineer aboard — autonomous systems will increasingly penetrate each mode of transportation. To be sure, there remain many challenging topics to work through, including how to safely integrate autonomous vehicles into a mixed fleet. However, it’s clear that autonomous vehicle technology will result in an exponential improvement in safety outcomes and mobility options.
Changing Ownership Models
If the sharing economy disrupted the mobility space during the last decade, this decade’s innovation will involve a change in ownership models (e.g. from individuals to fleets) that will counterintuitively make public transit more accessible to more people. A major barrier to many Americans utilizing public transportation options is how far their office or home is from a transit hub. Therefore, shared-mobility solutions and platforms will lead to increased use of public transit. Just imagine if you could take a low-cost AV from your home to the subway and not have to worry about parking.
Get Ready for Flying Cars
We can’t discuss the future of transportation without mentioning flying cars, right? One of the more interesting technology trends we uncovered is the near-universal belief across industry experts that electric vertical takeoff and landing taxis will be available by 2030. These will be quad copters that will handle tasks like taking passengers from an urban area to an airport and small package delivery. This technology will aid in urban congestion management, and reduce noise and air pollution, but regulatory requirements still need to be developed and ground infrastructure like charging stations needs to be deployed. But, in short, yes, by 2030 you’ll have the opportunity to ride in a flying car.
What will it take to get there?
One thing I discovered while interviewing experts is that sometimes they're asking the wrong question about the future of mobility. They ask if the future will be a shared, multimodal, driverless, autonomous ecosystem, or is it going to be analog, in the traditional way we've always done it? The reality, though, is that it will be a blend. There will be more autonomous systems, from cars operating without a driver to trains operating without an engineer. Yet it's not going to be every train, and it's not going to be every car.
So as excited as we are about science fiction becoming reality, our view is that the greatest opportunity to grow our business alongside the megatrends impacting the U.S. mobility ecosystem is a renewed focus on existing systems, particularly public transit. This, for Siemens, means clearly the possibility of increased public-sector investment in urban transportation infrastructure. Whether it’s subway modernization, new and expanded light-rail systems, intelligent traffic systems, electrification of automobiles or intercity rail, Siemens is perfectly positioned to continue to be a technological leader if this market truly grows, as expected in our hypothesis.
Smart Policy and Constant Collaboration
Of course, the corresponding threat to this picture of the future is a lack of public investment and regulatory modernization. Addressing this will require close partnerships between government and industry. Walking around CES, I saw everything from flying taxis to a fully autonomous Siemens shuttle made intelligent by combining the digital and physical worlds. It was all very inspiring, but I couldn’t help but wonder if government policy will be able to keep up with this rapidly evolving technological advancement. Yet, as our team of experts showcased our vision for the future with Deputy Assistant Secretary Fulton and the conversation took off, it became clear that this vision will soon be our reality.
For these reasons, I am so excited that, as we enter a new decade, Siemens is ideally positioned to weave together the threads of the digital and physical worlds into the fabric of the 2030 mobility landscape.