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Hop, step, jump: FMN’s disruptive measures in Smart Mobility

The province of North Holland, like the other provinces in our country, faces major challenges in the coming decades in terms of mobility and with it. Cities continue to grow, space is scarce. Disruptive developments are stirring under the surface, but regulations are keeping innovation at bay for a while yet. For “Scenarios Smart Mobility North Holland 2050,” the province drew inspiration from our director Alwin Bakker. Below is a rollout of the interview he gave.

What developments are we seeing and is driving as Future Mobility Network in the coming years?

The hop-step-jump approach

We put innovation mobility into practice through the so-called hop-step-jump approach. We first investigate smart mobility concepts in our own, closed-off test environment in Rotterdam, the Future Mobility Park. There are self-driving shuttles, delivery robots and recently Macrostep’s automatic vending machine. The well-known Hardt Hyperloop has also found a second home there. A nicely challenging process of trial and error, though sometimes limping along.

Promising concepts are taking the next step: a field lab is being run on public roads. In collaboration with other parties, we are further honing the technology and possibilities. Then we jump into the deep end and set up a company to market the product. For example, our Coding the Curbs was founded. A digital system in which users can book parking spots. Where a truck comes to unload during the day, a neighborhood barbecue is organized in the evening. What other developments do we as FMN see?

Remote-controlled car as stepping stone towards autonomy

Due to staff shortages at public transport companies, there was a focus on fully autonomous cars and especially shuttles. The Netherlands’ frontrunner role in this is waning and despite FMN’s efforts, the use of autonomous cars on public roads will take a while yet.

FMN is therefore now focusing on an intermediate form: the remotely controlled shared car. Recently launched to widespread interest at our test park and the Vakbeurs Openbare Ruimte. The shared car comes empty and tailored to the user, driven by a certified ‘teledriver’. The car is already on the public roads in Finland and Estonia, and we are now on the way to making this a reality in the Netherlands as well.

With the greater range for public transport, this innovation is an add-on to the existing system and may require up to half as many shared cars to meet the same mobility needs. We see an important role for government (including provinces) in considering employment issues in the transition to autonomous driving.

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From posession to using

Personal ownership of vehicles is likely to disappear altogether by 2050, allowing people to have mobility at a much lower cost. At General Motors, they are already making vehicles with the idea that they will never be owned by anyone else. Most likely, in the new system, the allocation party, the middle layer between government and end user, will become the owner of the vehicles.

FMN is already setting up a network of shared mobility across the Netherlands, for example by offering mobility at home in new neighborhoods with low parking standards for a small additional cost (about €80 per month). This network for shared mobility is a different kind of network than we are used to, because usually when we think of that word we think of bus lines and train tracks.

Logistics and autonomous vending machines

It is now easy to imagine the existence of “self-driving packages” by 2050. Autonomously, they know how to find their way to the customer and are connected to the mobility system. A fully automated logistics chain, in which producers themselves again bring their goods to the general public. No more high margins due to intermediate platforms and control (back) of the price customers ultimately pay for their product.

In that context, FMN is launching an autonomous vending machine. This Macrostep is a kind of supermarket on wheels. With self-driving vending robots, we can move toward a decentralized vending system, with the robots communicating with each other via blockchain technology. After all, transactions cost a relatively large amount of money when done through a bank, so it is cheaper to do them decentrally. With a decentralized system, you could also automatically reward people for desired behavior, such as traveling outside rush hour or choosing an alternative to the car.

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Brain-computer interface

Through a brain-computer interface, systems in 2050 will probably be able to read people’s needs even before they themselves are aware of those needs. So people will be able to have (autonomous) mobility at the moment they need it; they will even have to think about it.

The role of provinces

We encourage provinces in terms of smart mobility developments to think from the digital coding of outdoor space. No one is yet organizing a digital layer over the city that can be used to drive robotic vehicles. For example, under what conditions will vehicles be allowed to enter a city? Every city will have its own city support center in a few years, which digitally manages access to the city for trucks, for example. A city can then, for example, make access conditional on booking a parking space. Access to busy roads can also be denied to certain user groups during rush hour.

Such digital access systems must be interconnected, and in this supra-regional control lies a role for the provinces. They can play a role in setting up this “digital architecture,” because that is a big task. However, the government as a whole must let go of the idea that it is the only one that has steering power, because the same center of the market will stand opposite the government’s support center.

Two factors usually determine the success of an innovation. The first is laws and regulations: is there room for experimentation, and will the innovation eventually be allowed? The Netherlands lags behind the rest of the world in this regard because we do not have a good vision. The BOEV and the experimentation law are now outdated, as they focus heavily on the autonomous car and say nothing about the remotely controlled car. Public and private parties should start talking to each other about what is possible, and which vehicles we think it is justified to experiment with, and where.

The second factor is the business case: are there people who are willing to pay for an innovation, and will that lead to a sound revenue model? FMN sees a big market in “the gray area,” or enclosed industrial and logistics sites (warehouses, ports, etc.). There, companies are looking for solutions to staff shortages. The business case also involves the cost of the technology. Systems to remotely control cars using cameras are cheaper than fully autonomous systems using radars, for example.

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