Our travelling habits as we know them today have their origins in the British invention of the so-called road locomotives over one hundred years ago. Ever since, we have commuted in pretty much the same way. However, the transportation industry appears to have come to a turning point.
Various technologies have infiltrated the transportation industry and stirred the attention of investors across the globe. As a matter of fact, venture investments in this particular industry have skyrocketed, increasing two-fold over the past two-three years up to an impressive six billion dollars. Thus, companies like Uber, GrabTaxi, Lyft, BlaBlaCar or INRIX have managed to build a name for themselves within an industry that is clearly seeking modernisation. So, let us take a look at six distinct technologies that are bound to change the face of the transportation industry as we know it.
For starters, experts agree that we will soon be able to drive without using our hands or feet as vehicles like Tesla’s Autopilot or Cadillac’s Super Cruise are consolidating their position on the profile market. The LiDAR laser sensors featured on Google’s autonomous vehicles have made a statement in this sense, their price dropping to one tenth within three years and being expected to drop even further as new technologies are being developed. Experts also agree on the impact fully autonomous vehicles should have on the transportation industry, their benefits ranging from increased mobility and time efficiency to improved fuel efficiency, safety, on-demand services and public space availability.
According to the latest statistical data, the number of car data subscribers has been increasing over the past few years, exceeding that of smartphone or tablet subscribers at times. These data plans provide software updates for vehicles, traffic data to update their navigation systems as well as ensure the Internet connection to be used by the passengers, thus reducing the traffic and risks. Moreover, they enable the development of various proactive and predictive maintenance tools.
The benefits of vehicle connectivity are already showing in the activity of commercial vehicle fleets, companies using such data plans to schedule their purchases, manage the routing and maintenance of their vehicles or provide safer and shorter transportation solutions. Also, they serve as tools for insurance companies to differentiate between safe drivers and less safe ones.
However, they also affect the relationship between manufacturers and customers by redirecting the attention of drivers onto the screen, altering their driving experience and providing various types of information from calendar notifications to restaurant suggestions and the like.
A closer look at some developed countries will reveal the so-called “peak car” concept, which lies behind a 20 trillion USD industry that only uses 4-5 per cent of its assets. Such services provide on-demand mobility for customers while sparing them the costs of an unnecessary purchase and relieving the pressure of potential speeding tickets, parking availability, insurance costs or fuelling.
Another promising innovation in the transportation sector comes in the form of the electric drivetrain, which provides more power and efficiency as compared to their fossil-fuelled counterparts while producing no local air emissions. Uniquely efficient and performing, it is designed to reach maximum torque levels and minimum energy consumption ones by using a regenerative braking system.
The energy storage costs have dropped significantly lately as a result of investments being made in battery technology and innovative solutions being introduced on the market by battery companies. Therefore, the costs of low-carbon electricity are bound to drop even further while those of fossil fuels are expected to increase, which is expected to promote the use of the electric drive within the transportation industry.
The concept of multimodal networking also stands out as a promising innovation in the transportation sectors, cars being expected to be integrated into a well-organised and practical intermodal network. A first attempt to bring public transportation and driving experiences together has already been made, the initiative becoming increasingly popular among companies operating on the transportation market. At present, startup businesses are seeking solutions to ensure an increased transparency of the public transportation system, as well as traffic reduction solutions by crowdsourcing traffic data, developing smartphone ticketing applications and comparing multiple trip solutions.
Extended wait times and crowded schedules stand out as two of the main limitations associated with efficient infrastructure usage. However, progress is being made in this sense as mobile application developers are integrating data stored in the calendars, travel plans and location choices of users to maximise the efficiency of the trip planning process. The use of this kind of data by car sharing services, as well as by users of e-bikes and scooters can provide a solution to the so-called “last mile” problem associated with public transportation systems.
The use of different materials (and the compulsory 3D printing experience)
Last but not least, the tendency toward the use of different lighter materials is also becoming clearer and clearer. The mission to reach maximum fuel efficiency reflects in the reduced weight of the new vehicles launched by manufacturers worldwide, this particular factor currently taking precedence over the financial one. As a result, the innovative electrification technologies allow for it by increasing the range of batteries available and allowing the use of smaller ones. It should also be noted that this tendency is by no means random for it stands out at a time when carbon fibre parts tend to become cheaper and cheaper.
All these technologies gradually making their entrance to the transportation industry, including the 3D printing reference, have the potential to revolutionise it by providing new design and assembly solutions that can improve the performance of vehicles and therefore that of the industry overall. As a matter of fact, this is already visible as we are gradually being introduced to the benefits of Internet connectivity, new public transportation options, new concepts such as that of car sharing or an improved use of the road infrastructure.