The next decade will likely see an explosion of ‘what-if’ scenarios for personal mobility. It’s also likely that many of today’s visions will materialize in a re-imagined way as new possibilities emerge for travel within large urban zones.
“I really think people will start using more modes of transportation because the offerings will be so compelling,” Rachel Nguyen, Nissan Motor Company’s Executive Director of Future Lab, said in an Automotive Engineering interview on the sidelines of the 2018 Los Angeles auto show, where the company also held a daylong future-mobility conference—Nissan Futures—in conjunction with the auto show.
Disruptive tech already improving
Reaching a particular destination in a metropolitan area typically means a mix of highway and city driving. But traveling from point A to point B within a congested cit can be maddening for many vehicle drivers. Parking spaces can be hard to find and walking isn’t always the quickest way to reach one’s final destination.
“People have really gravitated toward electric scooters because of the ease of use and the accessibility,” said Andrew Savage, Vice President of Strategic Development for Lime, a California-based electric bicycle- and scooter-sharing service that formed in January 2017.
Lime started with e-bikes, then added electric scooters to its portfolio. The company now offers service in more than 130 markets on five continents. Lime’s newest, third-generation electric scooter was unveiled 11 months after the debut of the first-generation model.
“The Gen 3 electric scooter has a larger, more powerful battery so the scooter can last longer throughout the day. The battery is housed under the baseboard. Earlier versions had the battery on the scooter’s stem,” said Savage. Depending on usage, the lithium-ion battery provides a driving range up to 30 miles (48 km).
Lime’s newest e-scooter has a mountain-bike-inspired front suspension. A 250-watt electric motor provides a maximum speed of 14.8 mph (23.8 km/h), while a handbrake provides the stopping power. Added Savage, who also was a speaker at the Nissan Futures event, “The wheels are wider and larger. It has a more robust aluminum frame, which makes it more durable on the streets.”
A 2.8-in (71-mm) color dashboard display provides the rider with vehicle speed and other information. “We couldn’t have done what we’re doing even a few years ago. For one thing, we wouldn’t have been able to have GPS and wireless connectivity. The wireless connectivity allows us to know where a scooter is and it allows us to communicate to users via an app where the scooters are parked,” said Savage.
At the LA auto show, Volkswagen announced plans to introduce a three-wheel, electric cargo bicycle in 2019. “It’s perfect for making emission-free deliveries in places where a truck can’t go, like pedestrian-only city centers,” said Scott Keogh, president and CEO of Volkswagen Group of America.
VW’s concept e-cargo bike has a 250-watt motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. The two wheels at the front of the bike are separated by a load platform that can support a cargo box. The delivery vehicle can carry a 463-lb (210 kg) payload and an innovative tilt-compensating technology keeps the load platform horizontal in turns, Keogh noted.
The I.D. Buzz Cargo concept vehicle, an electric delivery van with autonomous driving capability, is designed to handle larger, heavier cargo deliveries. “Last year in the U.S., shippers hauled 11.7 billion boxes, an 8% increase over the prior year,” said Keogh, adding ,“Delivery trucks in the U.S. account for as much as 7% of urban traffic and 17% of congestion costs because of wasted hours and fuel.”
Depending on the size of the battery pack, the electric cargo van would have a driving range of between 200-340 miles (322 to 547 km) based on the European WLTP cycle. VW’s electric cargo van could launch as a production vehicle in Europe as early as 2022.
The VW Group plans to invest $38 billion in electric vehicle technology, including the construction of 16 dedicated electric mobility factories around the globe. By 2025, the VW Group will have launched no fewer than 50 full battery electric vehicles, according to Keogh.
Dr. Chris Brauer, Director of Innovation at Goldsmiths, University of London, leads a research team that in 2019 will start the next phase of The Shell Driving Experiment. The first phase involved more than 3,000 drivers in 13 countries; researchers used personality and lifestyle profiling, biometric emotion-tracking technology, an artificial intelligence (AI) chatbot as well as real-time weather and traffic reports to understand how internal and external factors affect drivers traveling from place to place.
The project’s second phase will net additional information, including insights about how humans react to autonomous driving scenarios. “As drivers start to get more into assisted driving environments, we want to see if there are differences in the user experience since technology plays an important role in controlling the vehicle,” Dr. Brauer said in an interview with Automotive Engineering.
Enjoyable, stress-free driving experiences typically affect an occupant’s life outside the vehicle. And in the future, it might be possible to turn a vehicle occupant’s sour mood into a more positive state-of-mind.
According to Dr. Brauer, a smart vehicle cabin could enhance the user’s experience if in-vehicle sensors and cameras recognize the occupant’s emotional state and intervene, if needed, by changing the audio selection, dimming the interior lighting, or doing something else to calm the occupant.
According to Nissan’s Nguyen, the future of mobility will be influenced by many known and yet-to-be known factors. “But that’s what pushes innovation.”