In this interview, Dr. Julian Weber, a freelance consultant for mobility, digitization and automotive development and the author of Automotive Development Processes, among others, talks about improving mobility systems and the role of infrastructure.
Individual Mobility. What does it take to bring you from A to B?
From an individual’s point of view, mobility simply is the possibility to be mobile, to go from one place to another – no matter where these places are. Typical criteria to evaluate this possibility are availability, accessibility, possible destinations, time to destination, cost, safety, comfort, reliability, sustainability etc.
To do so, you can either walk or use a means of transport – which can be any kind of vehicle from bicycle to car, from boat to drone, from e-scooter to airplane, from subway to cable car or even horses and donkeys.
Dropping the relatively rare (and in the context of this article irrelevant) case that you employ a personal chauffer, captain or pilot and are a passenger in your own vehicle, this leaves you with two options: You must either operate your own vehicle or use one rendered to you through a mobility service – such as public transport, ride hailing, bike sharing, airplanes or whatever.
A precondition for the proper usage of these vehicles is a functioning infrastructure. Mobility infrastructure comprises a broad bandwidth of things and services, e.g.:
In Short: To be mobile, you need your own vehicle or access to a mobility service. And in both cases, you depend on the availability of the appropriate infrastructure.
Securing all these requirements alone would be tough enough, but as we all experience on a daily basis: How well one person can realize his or her mobility needs also depends strongly on the mobility patterns of all others. Jammed streets, overcrowded subways, limited availability of sharing vehicles, scarcity of parking spaces, local and global emission limits keep you from doing what you would do if you would be the only one out there. Why the heck must all others use this road, bus or service when I want to?
How well everyone in a given area can fulfill their mobility needs at the same time is what we call Collective Mobility. Securing and optimizing Collective Mobility is one of the primary regulatory tasks of cities, regions or countries and means nothing less than controlling the interplay of all vehicles being used, mobility services being rendered, and infrastructure being operated and maintained in a given mobility system. And we all know how rudimentary especially big cities handle this challenge today.
A promising strategy to improve in this endeavor is utilizing what I call the “Internet of Mobility”: Vehicles, users, infrastructure – they all are getting more and more equipped with sensors (and hence create more and more data) and become more and more connected to the internet. There’s hardly one person on the street without a smart phone, service systems share their data and most importantly the sum of connected cars out there on the roads, which – from a data analyst’s point of view – represent nothing less than a huge, densely distributed network of powerful, mobile, and somewhat over-motorized sensor clusters constantly transmitting really big data ready to be collected and analyzed.
Such data is already available and used today, but at comparably low quantity and quality, and we are only at the beginning of holistically utilizing it. To picture what you get from conventionally connected cars compared to having digital twins: Most cars out there today leave you a little sticky note at the fridge door saying, “I drove 54 kilometers today, my tank is half full, all doors are locked, and I am generally doing fine.” However, cars with state-of-the-art connectivity have you on the phone 24/7, telling you constantly about each and every feeling and perception they have.
It is this increase and improvement of available data and especially the consolidated analysis of vehicle, user, and infrastructure generated data that allows the holistic optimization of mobility systems in the future. Here, I see mainly five main dimensions:
Real-time knowledge of infrastructure conditions and availability
Time- and location-based knowledge of user behavior and service utilization allows providers to
Real-time knowledge of all vehicles’ technical condition allows
Environmental data provided by connected cars allows
Combining and analyzing data rendered by all users, infrastructure and vehicles in a given mobility system allows the responsible authorities to
Dr. Julian Weber has been working for the BMW Group since 1997 and from 2010 to 2017 was responsible for innovation projects in the field of electromobility in "project i". In addition, since 2008 he has been a lecturer at the Faculty of Automotive Engineering at Clemson University (USA).