Flexibility in motion

  • From buses and rental bikes in Denver, to electric cars… with a multi-touch table and a mobility app from Siemens, transportation modes will merge into integrated transport systems.
Date:18 June 2012 Tags:, , , ,

By Hans Schürmann

MARCUS ZWICK IS FEELING UPBEAT. It’s late on a Friday afternoon, and the week’s work is done. A manager at Siemens, Zwick has just arrived home in a Munich suburb. He is looking forward to attending a soccer match this evening; during his lunch break, he went online and bought a ticket to the game. A quick glance at his smartphone shows he will need to leave within half an hour if he wants to arrive on time for the opening whistle. On his way to the stadium, traf­fic is still moving smoothly.

As traf­fic gets heavier, his smartphone steers him across the city – there are still 40 minutes to go before the start of the game. Suddenly, the mobile device on the windshield emits a shrill tone; a voice issues a traf­fic jam warning and recommends that Zwick park his car and board a commuter train, which will get him to the stadium on time. He touches the display with a ­ fingertip, and the navigation system automatically changes the destination and guides him to the nearest park-and-ride site. On the way, software in the smartphone purchases a ticket, ensuring that Zwick loses no time and can simply take his seat on the train.

Although this scenario is not quite here yet, the day will soon arrive when a mobility app loaded into a smartphone will enable people to travel safely and quickly through cities. Like Marcus Zwick and his colleagues at Siemens, researchers and companies all over the world are working on solutions that can closely network various modes of urban transportation with one another so that they can be intelligently controlled.

The idea behind this is that in order to quickly and effectively get from A to B in the future, people will be guided through
urban mazes by intelligent systems. Travellers and commuters won’t be limited to just one means of transportation; instead, they’ll switch between different modes, depending on traf­fic conditions, the route in question, and personal preferences – exchanging an electric car for a subway, a commuter train for a rental bike, or linking them all together. The individual systems needed for this are already available. The challenge is to link them intelligently so that they can be more effectively controlled for enhanced utility.

Demand for intelligent, networked transportation systems is growing rapidly. According to the most recent study by Frost & Sullivan, in 2025, about 4,5 billion people will live in cities – that is, one billion more than today, and the equivalent of 60 per cent of the world’s population. Worldwide, there are about 30 megacities with populations of over 10 million inhabitants each, as well as conurbations such as Germany’s Ruhr region, with their tightly meshed networks of urban centres. Many megacities and conurbations are already suffering from chronic traffic jams, parking space shortages and poor air quality.

Cars: fading status symbols
To ensure that life in most cities continues to be attractive, decision-makers from municipalities are working with mobility providers to  nd new solutions. For instance, Hans Rat, secretary general of the Brussels-based International Association of Public Transport (UITP), is sure that local public transportation will play a very decisive role in these developments.

Middle Eastern megacities have also recognised this fact. Planners have assigned top priority to integration of the transportation systems in Dubai, for example, where subway lines, buses and marine transport are linked by a growing number of multimodal connection stations. Shuttle bus service is available at all subway stations – even those in outlying areas. Fares can be paid by means of a “smartcard” or a smartphone e-ticket app, making it easier for people to change transportation modes. Instead of having to keep track of fare prices, users pay for the distance they have travelled, and can also use smart technology to pay for parking.

In Europe, according to Professor Stefan Bratzel of the “Centre of Automotive” at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, Germany, buses and rail systems are becoming preferred modes of transportation as more and more
young people in big cities are choosing not to own cars. In a study titled Jugend und Automobil 2010 (Young People and
the Automobile 2010), Bratzel and his team surveyed over 1 100 people between the ages of 18 and 25. The results clearly indicated that this group no longer considers the car to be a status symbol.


And surveys conducted since mid-2000 by Professor Peter Kruse, a Bremen-based psychologist, have confirmed this trend. “Mobility used to stand for freedom, and was considered to be a privilege. Today, freedom tends to be expressed through mobile phones rather than with cars,” he says. The object of desire and symbol of personal independence is increasingly becoming a down-to-earth tool for mobile functionality. Many consumers subconsciously feel that the car is just one of many forms of transportation.

The same finding was reported by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Karlsruhe, Germany. In their study, Vision of Sustainable Transport in Germany, they predict that only one out of four inhabitants in big cities will own cars by 2050. “Bicycles and highly efficient, lightweight electric vehicles are the new status symbols for city-dwellers,” report the researchers.

Mobility as a service
Carmakers such as BMW and Daimler have been adapting for some time now to their customers’ changing desires in terms of mobility. In the future, consumers will want to be able to purchase not only cars, but above all mobility. In addition to car sharing offers for electric cars in cities, such companies are focusing on connections to public transportation systems.

BMW wants to make park-and-ride options more attractive, for example, by means of better signs indicating parking
areas and information posted online giving the number of available parking spaces and upcoming train departure times. Daimler is offering not only its car2go service for rentals of its Smart brand cars in the cities of Ulm, Hamburg, Austin and Vancouver, but also a new type of ride sharing that brings together drivers and passengers in near-real time with the help of smartphones or personal computers. This makes it possible for the first time to arrange ride sharing for short trips on the spur of the moment, which could ease urban traffic congestion.

Multi-touch display
The individual elements of smart infrastructures are becoming smarter and smarter, but that’s not enough. “The information from traffic systems still needs to be bundled and used for controlling and optimising traffic flows,” says Zwick.

That’s where Siemens comes in. It’s not only a worldwide supplier of traffic infrastructure components – including traffic lights and traffic management systems – but is also developing hardware and software for traffic control systems and information technology solutions for collecting associated data and making it available as new services. For instance, Siemens Innovative Mobility Solutions has developed a multi-touch display that will make it easier for traffic control centre personnel in major cities to gain an overview of growing amounts of information.

The display gathers data from individual traffic and information systems and visualises it for staff. It also simplifies interactions between personnel in different areas of responsibility.

Much of this information will, of course, be available to the public. Their smart devices will give them access to situation
updates and allow them to spontaneously opt for an alternative mode of transport – just as Zwick does when he wants to meet friends in the city after the soccer match. A glance at his smartphone display tells him they are in a steakhouse. That’s perfect. He’s ready for a good meal. A mobility app shows he can be at the restaurant in 30 minutes by subway. Not wanting to make his friends wait for him, he checks the menu and orders in advance.

‘One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.’ – Elbert Hubbard

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