The future? Moving!

01.12.2020 | Author: Roxana Wellbrock | Photos: Rocket & Wink

An illustration of a pedestrian crossing with three cyclists and a Mercedes-Benz vehicle driving on the street.
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Cars that navigate themselves and buses that look like offices? Manuela Papadopol, Marianne Reeb and Pia Simon talk about their work concerning the future of mobility.

What will the future of mobility look like? Manuela Papadopol (the CEO and co-founder of Designated Driver, a start-up developing software to control autonomous cars), Marianne Reeb (the Head of Trend and Future Research at Mercedes-Benz AG) and Pia Simon (the Director Integrity Management & Corporate Responsibility at Mercedes‑Benz Group AG) talk about the different aspects of their work and give us insights about the future.

Imagine a metropolis in the year 2040: How do people get from one place to another?

Marianne Reeb: Of course, we at Mercedes-Benz AG don’t know exactly what the future will look like 20 years from now, but we can paint a fairly plausible picture. We assume that cars in the city of the future will drive autonomously and be networked with the environment. The technology enables traffic routes to be used jointly and safely by everyone on them.

Manuela Papadopol: There will probably be more bus-like shuttles on the streets. Some cities like London and Paris are already limiting the access of passenger vehicles downtown.

MR: Public transport such as buses will indeed play a greater role. As well as this, autonomous on-demand mobility will be part of everyday life.

How will all of this affect the infrastructure of the city?

MR: We will certainly need better transfer facilities if buses and trains are to be used more. There is a big reason why people still drive cars today: switching from one mode of transport to another is usually inconvenient. I often have to walk a long way, change trains several times and maybe even sprint through the rain before I finally get where I need to be. If we can bring everything closer together, this kind of transportation could become much more attractive. In 2040, there could be mobility hubs – places or zones where transitioning from one mode of transport to another is seamless.

So there will be lots of little bus shelters everywhere?

MR: Not necessarily everywhere. We will mainly see them where a lot of people converge to switch transport. And since everything will be networked, an alternative might be: I can order a bus to take me wherever I need.

MP: Micromobility is also becoming increasingly important for cities; e-scooters, e-bikes, cargo bikes – these are already seen on the streets today. The juxtaposition of these many different types of vehicle only works if each has its own dedicated track. So it is perfectly clear who can travel where using whatever means of transport. In some Scandinavian countries, there are even lanes on the pavement for people who use their smartphones when walking. I think that’s a great idea. Otherwise, these people become an obstacle for others; they could even collide with oncoming people. When micromobility is managed in such a smart way, it soon starts to help reduce congestion in city centres. And as a by-product, results in fewer accidents.

An Illustration of pedestrians and a Mercedes-Benz vehicle that stops in front of them.

This means more safety on the roads, especially for older people and children. In 20 years, will parents still be taking their children to school themselves in the morning?

MR: There could be shuttle services to pick the children up from their doorstep and take them to school. This shuttle would also not need to be reordered every day, because it will know the children’s exact timetable via a digital assistant. As a parent, I would then be picked up by an autonomous vehicle and taken to the nearest public transport. In the afternoon I may feel like driving myself. So in future, we will no longer have to commit ourselves to a single mode of transport. I can also have orders delivered straight to the car that will take me home in the afternoon. This is the good thing about the new mobility opportunities: they buy us more time.

Ms Simon, you are dealing with the future of mobility in a completely different way. You are responsible for Integrity Management and Corporate Responsibility at Daimler AG. What first comes to mind when you think of automated driving?

Pia Simon: It’s the responsibility we bear – and the trust that our customers place in us. Safety has always been a top priority at Daimler AG, and we want to maintain that trust in our brands with the new technologies as well. One example is our principles surrounding responsible development and using artificial intelligence. We identify how we will deal with new technologies and the conditions under which we will use them from the earliest stages.

MP: The social aspect should not be underestimated. We have to build trust in the new technologies.

New mobility makes the issue of integrity even more relevant to society than it is now. How exactly do you approach this topic in your company?

PS: In a global automotive group like ours, integrity means complying with rules and laws, acting in accordance with our corporate values and also listening to our own conscience. We must boost awareness of this if we are to incorporate integrity into our daily work. We achieve this through dialogue among and within the various departments, regular communication and training. It’s about common understanding and exchange of views, especially in situations where you cannot immediately see what the right thing is.

How do you do this?

PS: Integrity must be lived by everyone, it cannot be commanded. A strong corporate culture of integrity therefore calls for never-ending commitment. It is also important to understand each other. If mistakes happen, we must learn from them.

MP: I like this approach a lot, having this understanding. The change that is occurring is so profound that we need to take it one step at a time.

PS: You have to first take people along with you and give them the time they need to acclimatise themselves to something new.

MP: Think how long it took for smartphones to become an integral part of our everyday lives! Now it’s impossible to imagine life without them. I think it will be a similar situation with the new mobility opportunities. We can’t expect anyone to fully grasp automated driving overnight. Someone who can’t imagine anything better, yet stood waiting for something new? That’s not how it works.

How do you think it should happen instead?

MP: We are experiencing an evolution of transportation and through the power of software we will be able to develop personalised experiences for all passengers. Automated driving has a lot to do with software, but software is difficult to understand. So how do we bring on board those who haven’t had anything to do with it up to now?

PS: The ethical discussion of future topics such as Big Data is vital.

MP: We work with what we already know and trust at Designated Driver. I’ll give you an example: we have shuttles in Texas that run automatically to a certain extent with the help of sensors and cameras. There is no driver in the front seat, just the comforting sight of a steering wheel that turns. People are still welcomed by the system when they enter. This will probably make the transition that much easier for many of them. What they see in the shuttle is already basically familiar to them: they see a car. In theory, the interior could just as easily look like a playroom or an office. The imagination knows no limits. The great thing is: we can all keep dreaming together about what new mobility will be for us.

MR: Some of the great solutions to our most long-standing problems can already be found in some cities. I don’t just mean in terms of dealing with congestion and a lack of parking spaces, but also in terms of sustainability. What makes the city of tomorrow worth living in? One key aspect will be space-sharing. And this not only applies to living and working, but to mobility above all.

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