To change mobility, we have to digitally connect it. Why the car’s future is on the internet.
by Dr. Volkmar Denner
Time was when the car was an object of intense adoration. Those days seem to be coming to an end. The car is not so much the object of desire as a means to achieving other desires. Has the car really come to this — just something to get us from A to B? Not quite. The internet is adding a new dimension to driving. Bosch floated this idea earlier than others did. Nearly ten years ago, we predicted the following: “The internet will find its way into cars, and cars will go onto the internet.” Now we’re turning the idea into reality. And while people will still want to remain mobile in the future, they will be so in a more flexible way, depending on the state of traffic. They may well use their cars, but they may equally use trains, buses, or bikes. In other words, we will only be able to stay mobile if we change mobility, and by change I mean digitally connect.
The car is coming under attack from policy
Regardless of whether we look at it economically or ecologically, from the perspective of government policy or of individual behavior — there is no escaping the fact that the car’s standing in our society is going through a sea-change. Fewer and fewer young people see owning a car as a first status symbol. The car is coming under attack from transport policy — itself always a hybrid of economic and environmental policy. Congestion, accidents, climate change, air pollution – there are many challenges that need to be tackled. And just as importantly, we should not forget that hundreds of thousands of jobs are at stake. In this situation, the automotive industry faces two hurdles: it has to build even better cars, and, at the same time, it has to rethink mobility.
Urban traffic will triple by 2050
Big cities around the world are doing just that. One could say they have no other choice. By 2050, there will be more than six billion people living in megacities, twice as many as now. By then, urban traffic will have tripled, with delivery traffic in particular increasing as a result of online commerce. Building more roads can hardly be the solution. On the contrary, we are witnessing a paradigm shift in urban planning — away from cities built for cars to cities with traffic systems that flexibly incorporate and combine all means of transportation. Cities are guided here by a trinity of principles: to avoid, to shift, and to improve traffic flows.
Avoiding traffic flows is a long-term goal of urban planners. By mixing residential and industrial areas, for example, they can cut out the need for many journeys. For anyone traveling in a city, shifting traffic flows means it doesn’t always have to be done by car. And on a very practical level, improving traffic flows means that if there are going to be car journeys, then these have to be as emissions-free and accident-free as possible. At first sight, the automotive industry’s efforts to electrify and automate driving suggest it is focusing on the third of these aims. But in fact it could do much more. It could connect cars digitally with other means of transport. Only then would we approach our ideal of stress-free mobility. After all, while a relaxed journey from A to B may not be urban planners’ top priority, it is certainly at the top of every city-dweller’s list.
Mobility will be pragmatic, on two wheels or four
But how can we achieve this? Once again, there is no simple answer to this question. Everyone’s journeys will involve switching means of transport more, and a willingness to combine four-wheeler, two-wheeler, and rail transport. In this context, we speak of a new pragmatic approach to mobility. But this isn’t just a question of attitude. Such pragmatism depends on certain technologies being in place, which is where the automotive industry comes in. Its job is to ensure that switching from a vehicle of one’s own to another means of transport is as effortless as possible. This means things such as voice control that will allow drivers to use the internet to book parking spaces near bike or rail stations while still at the wheel, without being distracted in any way. I firmly believe that tomorrow’s city-dwellers won’t just move around on wheels, but also with data. Their own personal mobility assistant will provide them with services from the cloud – they won’t leave home without it...
It’s time to grow with new mobility solutions
Is this just pie in the sky, something to take our minds off our daily traffic jams? Not at all. Far off though this goal may be, step by step we are coming closer to it. Take the search for somewhere to park. This still tops the list of stress factors when driving, and accounts for one-third of all miles driven in cities. Cars that are left outside a parking garage and find their own way to the nearest vacant space, cars whose sensors identify vacant curbside parking spaces and transmit this information over the internet to an online map — both will become reality this year, thanks to Bosch technology. Even the rush hour is becoming less stressful. This and other connected solutions hold out the promise of a market worth billions. The market is still fragmented, but Bosch is aiming for annual growth there that is well into double digits. The establishment of our new Connected Mobility Solutions division is a clear step in this direction: when it comes to the mobility of the future, it’s time for more than just pilot projects — it’s time for the company to start putting it to widespread use.
Automated Valet Parking: The car parks itself
Infrastructure must also be connected, please
Admittedly, tomorrow’s mobility means a lot of investment. In Germany at least, no other sector spends as much on R&D as the automotive industry. Within ten years, this spending has doubled. At Bosch, the increase has been even greater. Despite all the pressure the industry is under, politicians should not simply ignore these efforts. On the contrary, they should not just talk the talk about future mobility, but walk the walk as well. Two points are decisive here: first, infrastructure — traffic lights, for instance – also needs to be digitally connected. And second, powerful communication boxes should be installed in vehicles, and not just for emergency calls. Only then will cars be able to exchange data with the infrastructure and with each other, facilitating better traffic flows through flexible “green wave” schemes that adapt to current congestion levels, for example. Politicians are right to demand the modernization of the traffic system, but can themselves create the framework this requires.
We don’t have to wait for Silicon Valley
In any event, it is not only in its classic “under the hood” domains that the automotive industry has upped its development spending. Instead, information technology on wheels has become increasingly important. Bosch alone now employs more than 25,000 software and IT specialists, roughly 4,000 of them for the internet of things. This is indicative of our transformation from automotive supplier to diversified technology company. The automotive industry doesn’t have to wait for Silicon Valley to make the car part of the internet. Here and now, we ourselves are making the first solutions for connected driving available. What was once a vision is now becoming business reality. It’s a business that is good for all of us, for it is restoring quality of life in our cities.