An interview with Sven Göth, CEO & founder of the Digital Competence Lab
Sven Göth, an expert in the future worlds of work and living, believes that for companies to remain successful in the future, they have to think about the future now. Göth took a look at the future of travel for TRANSFER. He feels certain that it will be shaped by a whole variety of new travel options, even if a difficult journey lies ahead not just for companies but also for consumers. The ideal blend of travel options will boil down to the right infrastructure, people, and their mobility requirements at each specific location.
Hello Mr Göth. You spend a lot of time looking at the issues that affect the future. What do you think the future of travel holds for us? How autonomous will mobility be?
I imagine the future of mobility, thinking specifically 10 to 15 years from now, to be a question of location and perspective. Rural areas will be totally different from urban centers with respect to the travel options on offer. IT infrastructures and the volume of people wanting to travel will dictate the availability of different options. Everyone seems to be talking about Mobility as a Service at the moment, but it’s a one-off idea and you can’t promise to deliver something like that across the board in a country the size of Germany. We’re most likely to have access to a new selection of mobility alternatives in the big cities, and this raises a question: What will the blend of travel options be like in the future and – depending on what this looks like – will I still need my own car? Ownership will drop significantly compared to usership in this area. We’re already seeing signs of this happening today, but things are still not positioned properly when it comes to efficient or user-optimized implementation. Similarly, we need clear statements regarding mobility – on a political and public level – such as what will happen in the cities. The reason I say this is that there are certain issues that still need to be addressed to plan the infrastructure for a high volume of users, especially if we want to meet expectations when it comes to service, sustainability, and convenience. So travel will become extremely diverse in the next decade. We’re already seeing some big differences in the travel options offered within states and certain cities. In some areas there are autonomous buses, trains, and cars driving around, or cities that are highly digitalized, but there are others where people won’t travel around without their cars.
Are German businesses prepared for these developments? And what about consumers?
Prepared? Yes and no. On the one hand, the carmakers, the cities, and the politicians are making moves to establish the right conditions for the travel options of tomorrow. But on the other, people are still quite confused about the change that’s coming and the consequences it will bring in terms of credible implementation. I see the same thing happening with consumers. The adoption rate is still quite manageable in the cities, where there’s a good offering of alternative solutions, although some services like e-scooters and ride-sharing (like MOIA) can have limited capacities, so this weakens the user benefit and ultimately reduces usage levels. There’s not yet the right mixture of travel options, which you need in an urban setting to make proper use of the system, just as you do in rural areas. And this situation will be different in every city since the infrastructure, population, and travel requirements are also different. What we need to do now is start testing and trying out different alternatives in suitable settings to plan mobility for the future based on experience. I think ultimately, there’ll be a variety of public transportation options, especially in the cities, since this is where you can achieve the most synergies and the most important data you need for public transport is already coming together there.
Most people think about autonomous cars when you ask them about autonomous vehicles, but there are also autonomous trains and autonomous aircraft. What role will these modes of transport play in the transportation ecosystems of the future?
From a general perspective, aside from airborne vehicles, autonomous trains are probably the field autonomous mobility can be achieved the most quickly in. They already have fully autonomous trains running in the railway network in Japan. Drones also offer tremendous potential, in a number of areas. For instance, they can improve the flow of traffic going from downtown locations to the airport. Drones can also be useful in efficiently moving certain objects around. The boss of EHang, the drone producer, flies to the office in Shenzhen every day. But to do this, you need the right regulatory framework. It’s also important in such areas to define how these solutions should be used in terms of certain criteria such as sustainability, the benefits, and planning horizons. In some areas, I see the progress that’s being made as extremely positive, although it won’t be that expedient if everyone’s flying around in their own private drones in the future. That’s not my vision of the future. Mobility is a fundamental aspect of our day-to-day lives. It’s important to put technology to the best possible use, to save time, make things more flexible, and foster sustainability. Ultimately, alternatives enrich the ecosystem if they deliver the best possible benefit for all stakeholders in a given location. This is where doing things like integrating Hyperloop into the railroad network becomes conceivable. I don’t think we’ll be lacking in alternatives when it comes to travel options, even autonomous mobility. I envisage an exponential leap forward in developments over the next ten years, because the most important technologies have all reached a level of sophistication for us to work on leveraging their potential together, or enhancing their potential. Quantum computing will also have a big impact on mobility, because it will make it possible to simulate and improve traffic flows in parallel.
What do you see as the biggest challenges in making autonomous travel a reality?
That’s an easy one: networks, security, and our faith in technology!