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Digital Roads and the New Vehicles: A Traffic Engineers Dream.

How do we give power to Transport Engineers to improve our Safety and Efficiency on urban roads? We give them a new class of vehicles, with a digital Operating System they can set the maximum speeds, control where the vehicles can be parked – and encourage more New Vehicle typologies to emerge – beyond the e-Scooter.

What is a New Vehicle?

The “New Vehicle” is just sitting on a seat (such as a bicycle or sit-scooter), or standing on a deck (like a stand-scooter or skateboard) – twisting a grip or pushing a thumb-paddle – and gliding effortlessly forward in an electro-silent-buzz…..

Have you tried it? It is so fun and easy – it makes walking seem like hard work, especially in the heat, and makes driving for short journeys like walking a dinosaur – opening doors, sitting, parking, waiting.

These electronic micro-vehicles are exponentially growing in popularity (see my post), despite reticence and some worry. Why? Because they are fun, efficient and easy. And really pretty safe – but for the Old Vehicles around them.

I will talk about safety and network efficiency, our current position in history and how these New Vehicles may evolve – and how smart cities could engender a transport paradigm shift that gives engineers control over factors like speed.

Gotcha Zippy Trike micro-mobility vehicle

Are New Vehicles (eg e-Scooters) just a niche fad?

No. They are the start of a new “digital” vehicle typology. Digital because the smarts is in the App (which is in your phone).

These new Vehicles just don’t have a name yet – it’s too early (eg a Scooter is now at least three things – like a Vespa or twist-and-go motorbike (even if it is electric); a kids kick-scooter; and the electric scooters of Lime et al). They are akin to the Horseless Carriage.

How can we Increase Safety and Network Efficiency?

“New Vehicles” could be sidelined by policy if we are not careful- especially policy on safety. But perhaps we can radically increase safety and efficiency by increasing New Vehicles – and decreasing Old Vehicles – in the urban core.

Reshaping our inner urban mobility networks to grow these New Vehicles could radically improve a city’s safety and efficiency across dimensions – plus a host of other economic, social and environmental benefits.

Linked with electric transit – trains and trams – we have a powerful combination.

Where Are We in History?

The New Vehicle (electro-digital-micros) in 2018-199 is where the Old Vehicle (the ‘car’) was in about 1885 – the Benz was first production motor vehicle.

Current-model New Vehicles (ie electric scooter variants) are early versions of what will come to pass. We want to see myriad shapes and combinations of bicycles (without peddling, or peddling as a backup), kick-scooters, quad-bikes, golf buggies, vespa-type scooters, and ‘seats-on-wheels’. Human steered, electric powered, digitally managed.

Expect (and promote) an increasing array of yet-not-invented options, like:

  • sitting or standing
  • covered or open
  • single or multi-passenger
  • two-, three- and four-wheels….
  • warm and cold weather versions
  • fat and skinny, big and small wheels
  • snow, rain and sun mods, etc

We, as urban leaders, would be wise to support the innovation and opportunity so that mechatronic engineers are incentivised to make comfortable New Vehicles that suit a diverse urban population (age etc) and requirements (commutes, deliveries etc).

New Vehicles Empower Digital Traffic Engineers

Just imagine your car slowing down, despite you, at the 25km/hr school zone. Seems unimaginable in today’s car-o-saurus paradigm. Our trusted, diligent transport engineers have no way to actually make Old-School Vehicles slow down. It is a closed system.

Instead, traffic engineers coax and guide drivers using signage, policing and physical design (ie design speeds). But it is up to the human and their emotional state to actually limit their speed and behave appropriately.

There are now 1.5 million (!) deaths per annum (plus 30-40 million injuries) on roads. Let’s be careful that one death on an electric scooter in England is not mis-proportionalised to “new Vehicles are dangerous”.

Nissan’s micro-electric concept vehicle.

Giving Transport Engineers Speed Control

The New Vehicle paradigm allows traffic engineers to enforce speed limiting based on geo-zones. This occurs through the Operating System interfaces.

Geo-zones are a geographic zone on a digital map. It is a shape (a polygon) that has attributes attached – such as maximum speeds.

So the New Vehicle paradigm is like this:

  • You are zipping around (at 20kph) on your ‘mobility device’ (eg eScooter) in a Digital Transport network
  • You zip up to the shopping street and you are in a hurry to buy that gift… and because you are human would normally speed – but you are de-zipped. Your New Vehicle auto-slows to, say, 5km/hr for safety – walking speed. It is in the control of the transport engineer via the App.
  • You later leave the speed-restricted area and you can zip along at 20kph once again.

This modus operandi can be replicated across use cases and locations. It is highly scalable for the 5km micro-journey.

Scooter- and bike-shares use geo-locking to digitally control where you can/not park your Vehicle. If you are outside the ‘parking geo-zone’, then you can’t park there.

This psychology is not available in the closed Old Vehicle paradigm. And they won’t let you in. Remember VW lying globally about emissions? Remember GM funding the removal of tram lines via National City Lines across the US ? That represents Old Vehicle psychology.

Bio-hybrid vehicle by Schaeffler – check their site.

Digital Transport with New Vehicle thinking Inverses the Power Relationship

This is a transformation in power from the individual to the network:

  • With New Vehicles, the network gains power over the individual. Traffic engineers could remove signage and control speeds and parking digitally – through geo-zones in the Operating System.
  • In the Old Vehicle paradigm, the individual in the vehicle has the power, and we clutter the landscape with signage and policing to carrot-and-stick compliance.

This is a powerful combination: safety control to those we actually trust (our transport engineers, not the car companies), effortless, silent, electric micro-vehicles with a collaborative digital Operating System.

Can this really build a New Urban Mobility Network?

It is definitely possible, and so it is worth a shot.

The benefit could be a much improved urban mobility network across outcomes: safer, cheaper, faster, more humane and more eco.

To capture this unique moment in history requires a special type of thinking to ‘think outside the box’ plus realism across urban needs – from garbage removal, to deliveries, construction to school runs, livability and don’t forget politics.

It is definitely worth us having a visioning conversation at the highest levels to experiment with the transformation of urban mobility to Digital Transport and the New Vehicle paradigm. I wonder which city and which people have the vision to think these new thoughts. Be in touch if you want more insights on the possibilities.

I will write in future on the five properties of the New Age network to empower traffic engineers and urbanists to take make control of our streets.

To learn about digital vehicles, engagement and bringing your critical processes to life – contact me for a free consult. 

 

Author: Dr Ben Guy


 

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