If you think you face a tough commute today, imagine what it could be like four decades from now when the world’s population has swollen by a further 2.5 billion people. By 2050, the UN says 2-in-3 people will live in a “megacity” of more than ten million people – placing urban transport infrastructures under severe strain.
That’s why Ford convened the City of Tomorrow Symposium in San Francisco, California – to encourage engineers, politicians, urban planners, power grid experts, academics and citizens to begin planning the mobility solutions that will let us get from A-to-B in future.
John Kwant, vice president, Ford City Solutions, kicked off the Silicon Valley event with a call for realism on the part of planners: “Solutions are needed to maintain people’s freedom to move and these solutions cannot hinge on ideas that are still decades away, like flying cars and underground tunnels,” Kwant warned.
Instead of focusing on “sexy headline” technologies, Kwant said cities need to look at their infrastructures in detail to understand the investment needed in roads, bridges and electricity supplies to make packed cities “efficient, safer and healthier”.
And mobility will be even more safe and efficient if all forms of transport – electric and autonomous vehicles, subways, buses, ride-hailing and bike-share schemes – communicate with each other so cities can fuse them into a “cohesive network”, Kwant said.
The self-driving vehicles in that network must be designed to carry both people and goods, said Sherif Marakby, Ford vice president for autonomous vehicles and electrification. “For many people who live in large cities, owning a car is no longer a viable choice. Ride sharing and hailing is on the rise, and shopping at malls is giving way to buying online, which is increasing package delivery services,” he told delegates.
As a result, Marakby says Ford and its partners will start out by developing and manufacturing self-driving vehicles that are both comfortable for passengers and good for carrying packages.
Among the biggest challenges will be creating energy grids that can cope with increased demand from electric vehicles, cautioned Mike Tinskey, Ford Global Director for Connected Vehicle and Emerging Services. “With the added strain of millions of electrified vehicles, how will the energy grid keep up? The short answer is – right now – that it might not,” Tinskey said. “Thankfully, many utilities, governments, businesses and other stakeholders are already working hard to improve the grid to meet future demands.”
For example, Ford is researching how electric vehicles can return energy to the grid during peak consumption hours.
Also thinking big were Erica Klampfl, director, and Ruth McLachlin, design researcher, at Ford Smart Mobility’s Greenfield Labs. The pair told delegates that planning for the future cities should be an exercise in making the streets align with our societal values – and that we should challenge the notion that streets should be designed merely to support the movement and storage of vehicles.
Klampfl and McLachlin suggested measures like taking back parking spaces alongside roads and transforming them into bikes lanes. “After all, in cities like San Francisco or New York, where a large percentage of households don’t even own cars, why should one-third of a city street be dedicated to parked vehicles?” they asked.
A good question, and just one of the many that Ford is keen to help solve.
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