21, Nov, 2018

The future of mobility

From vehicle-as-a-service models to electric vehicles and a future without human drivers, our assumptions of the best way to get from A to B are being challenged and re-shaped.

At ORIX’s first In Conversation Lunch at Aria in Sydney, Professor Hugh Bradlow and Behyad Jafari shared their insights into the future of mobility in Australia – and how it will create far-reaching benefits as well as disruption.

What do we need from transportation?

As President of the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, and former Chief Technology Officer and Head of Innovation at Telstra, Bradlow believes that mobility transportation is closer than we might think – because we need to rethink what we need from transportation.

“Our future transport system needs to be safe, convenient, cheap, scalable and carbon neutral,” he explained. Every year, approximately 1,200 people die on Australian roads and 50,000 require hospitalisation due to car accident injuries. Human error is the cause of 94% of road accidents, and Bradlow believes a fully-autonomous vehicle (one where performance equals a human driver in all weather and driving conditions, known as ‘level 5 autonomous’) –  could reduce this risk.

OECD modelling also suggests the use of TaxiBots and high-capacity public transport could also remove 90% of cars in a mid-sized city. “If Australia’s population keeps growing with the same rate of car ownership, we’d need two and half times more road capacity by 2050,” said Bradlow. “But shared ownership, optimised routing and autonomous vehicles would allow us to grow with the same road capacity.”

The global rise of electric vehicles

“2018 was supposed to be the year of the electric vehicle, but Australia is falling behind,” Electric Vehicle Council CEO Behyad Jafari told the group. “By 2024, electric vehicles will be cheaper to purchase and run than those with internal combustion engines. But with a lack of government direction, market uncertainty is restricting growth.”

He says electric vehicles will provide significant economic, health and environmental benefits, including a reduction in CO2 emissions and the ability to shift from importing 16 million barrels of oil every year – instead taking advantage of sustainable energy sources as they become increasingly available.

“Australia has effectively become a dumping ground for less efficient vehicles,” warned Jafari. “We have the worst transport energy efficiency in the developed world.” Norway, which is targeting 100% electric vehicle by 2025, is leading the world in electric vehicle adoption, and China which expects to be fully electric by the 2040s.

Welcome to the sharing economy

“By 2040, no one will own a car – it will be as unusual as owning a plane,” predicted Bradlow.

Every shared car leads to a net reduction of 12 cars on the road, and within six years it’s expected that less than half of all car trips will be in a privately owned car. This has the potential to free the $250 billion capital tied up in passenger car ownership in Australia for other more productive purposes, and raises the interesting question of when you might buy your last car.

A driverless future

According to the OECD’s modelling of a typical mid-sized European city, self-driving fleets could also free the equivalent of 210 football fields in public space by reducing the need for on-street parking.

Level 5 autonomy will allow a vehicle to drive in any environment or weather, with zero need for human intervention. Technology will be the critical enabler, including artificial intelligence for control, sensors for situational awareness, V2X communications and differential GPS with centimetre-accuracy.

Bradlow believes a machine will be able to recognise an object better than a human, and can continue learning from any failures. “It will transform transport options for the elderly and people with disabilities,” he said.

Changes expected within the next decade

These key trends will have a significant impact in the near to short-term on many industries – including urban planning, parking stations, auto manufacturing and insurance. It will also disrupt jobs: around 28 per cent of Australian workers drive as part of their employment. Governments will also need to change how they plan and fund road and transport infrastructure. There are already calls for electric vehicles to be taxed differently, as users do not pay fuel excise.

“By 2025, the financial incentive to run electric vehicles will be unquestionable,” said Bradlow. “But the real transformation point will be autonomous vehicles. By 2040, there may be no more human drivers on the road. We need government leadership, policies and regulations to make that happen.”