Imagine an app that will always recommend the best way of getting from A to B, tailored specifically to your personal needs. Think how much easier it would be to have one single ticket for that journey, regardless of how many different vehicles you’ll be using to make the trip. Or, if you’re going by car, how about sitting back and reading a magazine – while your car takes care of the driving.
Nobody can say with any certainty what the vehicles of the future will look like, but when it comes to the overall future of transport we believe that the direction of travel is clear.
Mobility in the future will be built on the needs of the traveller rather than the mandates of the operator. It will be multi-modal, meaning that you don’t have to worry about added complications even if your journey is a mixture of cars, buses, trains or planes.
It will be smarter, more efficient and less harmful to the environment. It will be powered by data and enabled by the latest technological advances in a wide range of fields that have traditionally been distinct from the world of transport.
In short, it will be based on ‘Intelligent Mobility’ – the name for the global £1.4 trillion industry that is taking shape at the intersection of traditional transport and new technologies.
Moving from ‘transport’ to ‘mobility’
‘Mobility’ and ‘transport’ are often seen as synonymous, but the future of mobility is all about creating a world in which travellers no longer need to think about their transport.
The basic structure of our transport system has barely changed for a century or more – with cars, trains, boats and planes still operating along similar lines to the vehicles with which our great grandparents would have been familiar.
We have managed to have more transport, but have not yet considered how we might fundamentally transform our approach to mobility.
Faced with an ageing population, increased congestion, changing customer expectations, constant pressure on our financial resources and an urgent need to reduce harmful emissions, however, we cannot afford to keep doing things the same old way. And, fortunately, we don’t have to. Technological advances in the fields of computing, mobile communications, data processing, artificial intelligence, materials, robotics, renewable energy and battery performance are causing disruption across a swathe of industries, including the transport sector.
For the past century or so, change has been incremental. In the coming decades, it will be transformational.
Disruption is already taking place in the transport industry, of course, as evidenced by the rapid rise of ride-hailing companies like Uber. Uber is also a useful example of how new forms of mobility can be created by providing data-based services without having to develop costly new hardware (the roads and the cars used by the software platform are no different than those used by a traditional taxi company).
Clearly, today’s companies will need little encouragement to embrace new technologies if they can see a way to boost their bottom line or steal a march on their competitors. But it will take a more concerted effort to ensure that society as a whole ends up with an efficient, accessible and fair transport system that meets the needs of individuals as well as those of big business.
While the UK has considerable strengths in many of the areas that are pivotal to Intelligent Mobility, it is also not a foregone conclusion that the UK will manage to maximise its share of that £1.4 trillion global market, and the next few years will be critical to the successful development of the UK Intelligent Mobility industry.
Many new market niches are already being created and all players will need to significantly change their operations to take advantage of these opportunities – or face disruption if they have not.
As part of the UK’s wider Catapult network, the Transport Systems Catapult was created specifically to provide expertise, identify market opportunities and to help UK companies seize them. We oversee cutting-edge trials and projects, as well as feasibility studies and other forms of research, in order to accelerate UK engagement in the Intelligent Mobility sector. We also advise government and other authorities on the regulatory frameworks that might stimulate, shape or (if misapplied) hinder the market.
Our vision is therefore only a starting point. What excites us most is plotting the journey that will turn the vision into reality.