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©Avoid Obvious Architects: Seun CityWalk


Urban Mobility: Getting Around Stress-free

Our cities continue to grow unabated – and with them, noise and air pollution. One solution is an intelligent mix of emission-free, electric and autonomously driving vehicles, for which ZF already offers numerous components and systems today.

Text: Kathrin Wildemann , 07. December, 2017

Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.

My foray into the mobility of the future began with a short walk. An app on my phone guided me to a compact electric car from a car-sharing service parked a couple streets away. Thanks to car sharing, I am still flexible and can get around easily, even without my own car. I need to go to the furniture store to check out a new bookshelf for the living room. After entering my PIN, the car hums to life. The entire trip is paid for in the background without me having to do anything, billed by the minute and only for as long as I am actually using the vehicle.

Cities need new mobility concepts

This form of transportation is simply perfect for a late morning trip through the city. Emissions? Zero. The car drives on battery power. For the ride home in the afternoon, I hop on public transportation – I am having the shelf delivered and the streets are already filling up with commuters. A combination of the subway and a fuel cell-powered hybrid bus takes me to one of countless electric bike-sharing stations. This personal experiment with a mobility app proves that big things are happening in the local public transportation sector. The key words here are “seamless” and “intermodal,” and they refer to the ability to complete a trip without interruptions by intelligently switching between different modes of transport.

The demand for new solutions for local transportation in urban areas is huge. Over the last few decades, the urbanization megatrend has resulted in the formation of megacities, the largest of which have more than ten million residents. And this trend has shown no sign of stopping. The residents of many major cities already suffer from the effects of the traffic chaos today. During rush hour in São Paulo (population approx. 12 million), commuters can need up to an additional two hours to get to their destination. Anyone living in the greater Los Angeles area and on the road between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. needs to plan for their trip to take 84 percent longer on average. In Bangkok, that number jumps to 118 percent longer than during off-peak times. And cars in the city cause other problems – cities need to set aside between five and 15 percent of their total space for parking. And yet drivers still spend up to 30 percent of their driving time looking for a space – which further increases congestion and emissions.

It is not so much the car in and of itself, but instead the way it is used that is reaching its limits in today’s modern metropolitan areas, says Dr. Jennifer Dungs. She is the former institute director for Mobility and Urban Systems Engineering at the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO in Stuttgart: “The desire to have fun driving is going to become less important. In the future, the focus is going to be on the enjoyment of getting to your destination – and doing so seamlessly, without waiting, and in a way that perfectly meets your needs.”

Urban vision: The project Seun CityWalk of Avoid Obvious Architects.

Electrified mobility for emission-free city traffic

The solution we see emerging for urban centers and the surrounding areas is one of many different parts, such as the increasing interconnection of all forms of transportation and new, complementary mobility services built around autonomous, electric-powered vehicles. But one thing is also clear – robo-taxis alone are not going to solve the cities’ mobility problems. Efficient forms of public transportation will still be needed – but they will also have to be as interconnected and emission-free as possible.

This is why many municipal transport services specifically plan to rely on electric-powered vehicles for future local transportation, particularly buses, which remain the most flexible and important passenger transportation vehicle. Leading the way is China, which at the end of 2015 already had more than 173,000 fully electric buses in use in urban public transportation, primarily in the metropolitan regions of Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. A report from the International Association of Public Transport IUTP names 25 cities in Europe that either will expand their fleet of electric buses to a total of 2,500 by 2020, or have already done so. A further 13 major cities plan to electrify their fleet by 2025, and will acquire an additional 6,100 e-buses by then – which means that fully electric vehicles will comprise a not-so-shabby 43 percent share. The UITP estimates that in light of increasing demand, European manufacturers will be mass-producing fully electric buses at full capacity between 2018 and 2020.

Robo-taxis alone are not going to solve the cities’ mobility problems.

ZF has already prepared for this change. “We have systematically expanded our portfolio of products for electric drive systems in recent years, and today, we completely cover the entire range of electric vehicles for urban mobility, from articulated buses to electric bicycles,” says Jörg Grotendorst, head of the E-Mobility division at ZF Friedrichshafen AG. For example, the company presented a new central electric drive for buses last fall. CeTrax ’s greatest advantage is that existing vehicle platforms can be adapted to the electric drive system without requiring significant changes – offering manufacturers more flexibility in production. With its AVE 130 electric portal axle , ZF already offers a classic that has proven itself in mass production – the axle is equipped with two water-cooled induction motors next to each wheel, which power low-floor buses around the world through city traffic, efficiently and emission-free.

For the electric car sector, the company presented the newly developed mSTARS system in 2016 – a complete axle system that, thanks to a modular design unlike anything else in the industry, allows the electric drive to be integrated directly into the axle. With a power output of up to 150 kilowatts, the system is perfect for mid-range sedans and light commercial vehicles. At the lower end of the scale, ZF’s smallest electric drive has a diameter of only nine centimeters – the extremely compact, 48-volt, mid-mounted e-bike motor only weighs two kilograms, instead of the usual four. For ZF, that is a first step in the direction of micromobility.

ZF’s modular axle system mSTARS brings emission-free power to cars and commercial vehicles

A shared vehicle is twice as efficient

Which leaves the challenge of clearing the congested streets of the bumper-to-bumper lines of cars. All of the approaches to making city traffic more efficient and flow more smoothly share one fundamental idea – moving away from privately owned cars towards sharing solutions. This not only includes the previously described car-sharing model, but also ride sharing, a kind of modern, collective, on-call taxi service. Here, an algorithm groups passengers with similar routes together and drives them to their destinations in one vehicle instead of several. A study conducted by the OECD in early 2017 showed that this model could cut the total number of miles driven – which is used as a measure of traffic volume – in half in major European cities like Lisbon. To make sharing a ride like this user friendly, all of the vehicles would need to be connected both with each other and with different platforms that coordinate the trips and the users. And ZF also offers innovative solutions in this space, which complement the introduction of modern mobility concepts. For example, the “Car eWallet” developed by ZF in conjunction with UBS and IBM not only allows vehicles to complete payment transactions autonomously at charging stations, but also offers a secure transaction solution for car sharing.

ZF Car eWallet offers a secure transaction solution.

Robo-Taxis, People Movers, and autonomous delivery trucks

One mobility solution with significant potential for the future remains completely unseen on today’s city streets, despite already being technologically feasible: autonomous buses and taxis. Particularly in combination with sharing concepts, autonomous vehicles will fundamentally change the face of urban transportation. These vehicles can be on the road around the clock (except when charging or undergoing maintenance), and as such, would not ever require a parking space. A study conducted by the Munich-based consulting firm Berylls concluded that in the Bavarian capital, 200,000 privately owned cars could be replaced by 18,000 autonomous taxis .

To advance this development, ZF has invested in the Aachen-based startup e.GO Mobile AG. The fully electric, modular vehicle named the e.GO Mover can transport people or cargo depending on its configuration, and drives completely autonomously. A semi-autonomous preliminary version of this people and cargo mover is already set to ship in 2019. ZF technology is what allows this vehicle to see, think, and act – the company is supplying the ZF ProAI artificial intelligence platform it developed together with Nvidia, as well as cameras, radar sensors, steering systems, and brake systems.

When I decide to repeat this experiment in a couple of years, I will most likely make it across town even more efficiently, thanks to robo-taxis. And the same type of vehicle, in its configuration as a cargo mover, will deliver my new bookshelf right to my doorstep – emission-free and just-in-time.

The e.GO Mover will transport people and cargo from 2019.