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On new Paths

The ways we travel from point A to point B have changed dramatically in the past two centuries. And now we will once again have to reinvent mobility. Intelligent concepts and groundbreaking technologies show us the way.

Text: Stefan Schrahe , 15. December, 2017

Stefan Schrahe has been writing about everything four-wheeled for three decades now. In his leisure time, he enjoys traveling by bike - though he also prefers motorized ones.

A crooked back and chapped hands – the loom rattles day and night. Steam-spouting trains and ships make the world a smaller place and also open up new markets. The Industrial Revolution draws people to the cities, where accommodation may be expensive, cramped, and dirty, but at least it is close to the factories. Traveling is an expensive pleasure and commuting to and from work as we now know it is impossible for the nineteenth century worker.

Creation of new residential areas

After the car was invented in 1885, motorization becomes the icon of social advancement. In the second half of the twentieth century, urban planners design the car-friendly city, which is primarily put into practice in sprawling American metropolises, where it remains a reality today: “In the United States, people have made extensive use of the available space and spread out across the country, meaning that the population density is so low that it is difficult to develop public transportation networks,” emphasizes Professor Dirk Heinrichs. He is the head of the “Mobility and Urban Development” research department at Berlin’s DLR Institute of Transport Research. In cities with populations of more than one million, such as Phoenix and Houston, people cover up to 92 percent of the total distance they travel around with city with their own cars. And even outside of the US, the car led to the creation of new residential areas – suburbs around highly populated cities are seen as the ideal place to live, with one or even two cars in the garage for the commute to work. Small towns only survive because their residents remain flexible thanks to owning their own cars.

92 percent of the total distance residents of Phoenix or Houston travel around the city is covered in their own cars.

People and freight becoming increasingly mobile.

Four facts:

  • In Germany, the Federal Environment Agency calculated that vacation and recreational reasons account for 43 percent of all trips taken, with only 22 percent attributed to work or business reasons
  • Every German citizen travels about 14,000 kilometers per year
  • Global seaborne trade has nearly quadrupled since 1970
  • In some cases, inland freight transport has grown by more than 60 percent in the last 25 years. Road transport is increasing, while rail and inland waterway transport is declining. Globalization and online business are the causes

To be successful, you need to be mobile

Prosperity and mobility are closely related. The Energy Information Administration (EIA), which is part of the United States Department of Energy, has documented a nearly linear correlation between per capita GDP and the number of kilometers traveled per capita. In emerging countries, personal mobility is also the basic requirement for participation in society, personal success, and social progress – and the result of increasing economic output. In 2050, when nine billion people inhabit our planet, the need for mobility solutions will increase further, while at the same time, resources will be scarcer and environment protection standards will be more stringent.

In autonomous vehicles, passengers can pass the time relaxing or working.

The death of “9 to 5”

The future of mobility will see our commute to work less dependent on inflexible public transportation timetables, since working hours will increasingly free themselves from the chains of the classic “9 to 5” schedule. At the same time, continued urban sprawl is resulting in even longer commutes to work, making it all the more important to use the travel time wisely – in autonomous vehicles, passengers can either relax or work. Growing urbanization is also increasingly shining the spotlight on mobility when it comes to leisure activities. How can people quickly and cleverly get to their favorite climbing wall, mountain bike trail, or lake? Changes in our consumer behavior also call for new mobility concepts, as ZF’s 2016 study on the future entitled “The Last Mile” shows. An increase in online shopping, more deliveries, and ideally, one-hour delivery is all leading to package delivery services having to make multiple deliveries of smaller quantities in increasingly decentralized logistics operations.

Mobility is the basic requirement for social participation, success, and progress


Conventional mobility concepts for transporting passengers and goods are already struggling to make things work today. “We are currently seeing a radical shift in the structure of work and transportation,” says Chris Urmson. He is the co-founder and CEO of the mobility startup Aurora Innovation as well as former head of Google’s self-driving car program. Mr. Urmson has identified three disruptive developments that are playing out simultaneously and paving the way for new solutions. First: the transition from the combustion engine to the electric motor . Second: vehicles’ increasing connectivity. Third: autonomous driving. Based on these developments, a study on the future conducted by the German automobile club ADAC has outlined different features that will shape our mobility in the future and have an effect on one another.

“We are currently seeing a radical shift in the structure of work and transportation."

Chris Urmson, CEO of the mobility startup Aurora Innovation as well as former head of Google’s self-driving car program

We Can All Look Forward to Clean, Connected, and Intelligent

The future of mobility will not appear overnight. Old and new concepts will exist side by side for at least a decade. New mobility solutions will initially be introduced in areas where the problems are most pressing, the will to find a solution is the greatest, and the requisite economic power exists. While major Chinese cities are completely switching their public transportation systems over to electric power, for example, a family living in the countryside or in other parts of the world will still look forward to the hard-earned, two-stroke moped to use as the family vehicle. Nevertheless, new mobility solutions will change our world over the long term. They will be clean, connected, and clever. We should all look forward to them!

The ZF Intelligent Dynamic Driving Chassis is the basis for the Rinspeed SNAP concept car.

Clever and electric-powered transportation solutions

The ZF 2050 marine transmission allows ships to use clean hybrid technology

It’s just another day in China at this rental station with electric cars.

A bus with central electric drive for local, emission-free public transportation.

Mobile on the ground and underground

Three examples from the future:

An oasis of relaxation

Electric-powered, autonomous cars and robo-taxis will play a key role as personal vehicles in addition to trains and buses. The self-driving car will become a refuge for commuters traveling between home and work. As such, the fully connected vehicle is both a mobile office and an oasis of relaxation, complete with digital and multimedia connectivity. Since the vehicle is controlled by artificial intelligence, the driver no longer has to focus on the road. Robo-taxis, whose routes are optimized based on need, will be available for journeys into city centers. Since there will be a significant reduction in the number of parked cars in cities, and the taxis with a top speed of 30 km/h only take up a third of the space of a “normal” car, roads and parking lots can be scaled back and transformed into green spaces.

With the hyperloop from city to city

The Hyperloop will be used for long-distance travel. In this system, we will travel in capsules within a network of tubes – similar to pneumatic mail, but at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometers per hour. The Hyperloop is said to be capable of completing the 650-kilometer journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles in half an hour. This form of transportation is the vision of Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In July 2017, a prototype completed its maiden voyage on a test track just a few hundred meters long. Since an artificial vacuum keeps resistance to a minimum, the Hyperloop only needs an incredibly small amount of energy to operat. Built on stilts or buried underground, this system will create a continental subway network that will bring cities even closer together.

A subway system for goods

Cargo sous terrain AG (CST), a company founded in Switzerland in 2017, is relocating the transportation of goods to a network of underground tunnels. Here, fully automated and unmanned vehicles will travel in tubes 50 meters beneath the surface at a speed of 30 km/h powered by electromagnetic induction. CST transports Euro-pallets and smaller standard containers, such as for fresh produce and waste removal. At the heart of the CST transport system are the hubs in the major cities and in the companies’ central warehouses, where goods are loaded and unloaded. An overground city distribution concept with electric delivery vehicles is part of the overall logistics system. Thanks to Cargo sous terrain, freight transport will disappear from the surface of the Earth – literally.

In a nutshell: In each of the two previous centuries, people’s lives and our means of transportation changed dramatically. And once again, new transportation concepts are needed to secure the mobility of the soon-to-be nine billion people inhabiting our planet. Studies, technological developments, and examples show what the future of mobility will be like – clean, connected, and intelligent.

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