An interview with Professor Dr.-Ing. Jochen Baier and Professor Dr.-Ing. Oliver Taminé, experts at Mobility and Logistic, the Steinbeis Transfer Center
Transportation is undergoing a transformation. But where is the journey taking us? What should we expect the future of travel to look like? And will the future we envisage actually be achievable? TRANSFER spoke to Professor Dr.-Ing. Jochen Baier and Professor Dr.-Ing. Oliver Taminé, both closely involved in the topic of sustainable travel and mobility concepts. The two experts are convinced that the propensity of people to try new things and break the mold will be just as important as the actual technologies that will shape the future of travel solutions.
Hello Professor Baier, hello Professor Taminé. The future of mobility looks autonomous, safe, sustainable, gentle on the climate, efficient, and affordable. Is this a future that is actually achievable?
Jochen Baier: Let’s start with autonomy. Autonomous driving is not something that’s going to happen from one day to the next, it will be an evolutionary process. Getting from Level 2 autonomy (with lane departure warning systems or automatic parking) up to Level 3 (with the vehicle driving itself in certain situations) and Level 4 (with the system driving continuously) and then Level 5 autonomy (with no driver input required anymore, or even a steering wheel) will still take many years.
The second consideration is security. As vehicles and the infrastructure become increasingly connected, more risks arise, for example due to 5G and the interfaces it connects up. IT security will lead to new challenges, so things like attacks on vehicles from hackers become conceivable. On the other hand, sensors and algorithms will make autonomous vehicles safer than they are now.
The other point you asked about is sustainability. The state government of Baden-Wuerttemberg has come up with an extremely fitting definition for sustainable mobility by setting a target: Transportation should largely shift to renewable energy by the midway point of the century, and new formats of travel should be promoted. This will also contribute to a culture of multimodal transportation.
Oliver Taminé: If we think about travel options that are better for the environment, there are a number of energy sources that can be used without causing harm – water, wind, and sunlight. Solar energy and the wind can be harnessed with wind turbines and photovoltaic equipment in separate locations, so they can be used directly for environmentally friendly transportation.
Making mobility efficient is first and foremost about the efficiency levels, which are much lower with combustion engines than with electric motors. So future mobility will be much more efficient, and it will also be more energy-efficient than travel is today. Planning will also become a lot more efficient thanks to certain forms of IT, such as artificial intelligence.
Last, but not least, there’s the question of affordability. A number of factors have to be taken into account here. For instance, electric motors are more straightforward to build and they involve far fewer parts than combustion engines. Furthermore, fossil fuels are always more difficult to source so they will become even more expensive in the future. So in that respect, we can expect prices to go down. But what we can’t predict is the impact that growing demand for electricity will have on prices, or the demand for the resources that will be required, such as lithium or cobalt.
For transportation to operate autonomously and sustainably, not only does it require the right technology, it also needs a change of thinking in society. Where do you think the biggest challenges will be with all this?
Oliver Taminé: The biggest challenge will be that routines and convenient practices will need dismantling. People won’t always need their own car. Sharing concepts are a perfectly viable option, especially in inner-city areas. There could be a lot of robotaxis around in the future and for many, they’ll be a viable alternative to owning your own car. In rural areas, electric vehicles will replace cars with combustion engines mainly because of personal infrastructures – garages, carports, and/or solar panels.
Jochen Baier: We’re already seeing more and more cars being squeezed out of cities. This is where future travel will go more in the direction of bicycles and, first and foremost, efficient municipal transportation. In rural areas, it’s extremely expensive to offer municipal travel everywhere. Approximately half of all expenses are for personnel. So autonomous buses offer one potential way to reverse the trend in public sector travel in rural areas. This technology could significantly expand travel options.
You spend a lot of time looking at the topic of mobility management. What requirements are arising in this area as a result of the current trend toward autonomous travel?
Jochen Baier: Mobility management can basically be broken down into business and public sector mobility management. For businesses or employers, it opens up many potential opportunities: Examples of this are company-owned, autonomously operated cars and autonomously driven shuttle buses taking workers to and from work. Business mobility management is an important ingredient of company operations, so it will become an increasingly important instrument in attracting and retaining workers.
Oliver Taminé: The requirements that affect public sector mobility management are goals, transportation planning, and reliability. The goals of public sector mobility management in the future – especially if it’s based on autonomous technology – will mainly revolve around travel policies, although environmental factors will also play an increasingly important role. Examples of this are zero-emission and, if necessary, autonomous vehicles in inner-city areas: Transportation planning has to carefully consider the fact that environmental planning will also play a more central role in urban planning. The reliability of mobility concepts will also be an extremely important factor in an age of autonomous driving, since new concepts will only become established if they have been sufficiently evaluated and are continually available.
The pressure to change is already particularly noticeable at municipal transportation companies due to the skills gap – especially driver shortages. Autonomous vehicles would bring improvements in this area.
The travel of tomorrow will be dictated by individualization, connectivity, urbanization, and neo-environmentalism. What changes will mobility management need to undergo today to be in tune with the trends of tomorrow?
Jochen Baier: Today’s travel is shaped by personal car ownership. Of course cars are highly versatile and ideal for individuals, but on average we only use them for one or two hours a day. The autonomous mobility options of the future will have to take this liberty into account. If people want individual solutions, in essence this need could or already can be met by offering car sharing. For example in urban areas, parking zones can be managed carefully to limit the number of cars owned by individuals. But one aspect that it’s important to consider in this is that the different modes of transportation depend on high levels of connectivity. If people switch to a different form of transportation, it has to be quick and information on the ‘chains’ of transportation has to be transparent and accessible to passengers. This should also apply to rural areas. From an environmental perspective, future travel must be 100% achievable using renewable energy. This is where politicians have an important role to play, because mixing electricity sources with coal-fired power is not enough for people who want sustainability.
Oliver Taminé: Overall there are two conceivable scenarios: a large number of privately owned autonomous vehicles, continuing to be only used occasionally; and publicly owned autonomous vehicles, or ones provided by companies, that can be used on a shared basis.