The beginning of the reflection on the autonomous car starts with the “bridge dilemma”: a 40-year old surgeon drives an autonomous car and wants to cross a narrow bridge at the same time as a school bus full of children. The accident is inevitable, who will the AI save?
Are we ready to let artificial intelligence sacrifice us for the common good? Today, the success of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 11.2 concerning sustainable, accessible and safe mobility for all depends partly on the resolution of this dilemma. Let’s dive deeper.
No data, no smart grid
To make the network more efficient and deliver transport to the right place at the right time, you need data.
Mobility is like energy: a network and users. Let’s take the example of the electricity smart grid. For the system to be efficient, it must be agile and responsive. For this, it’s necessary to understand the users, their habits and, thus, manage energy sources optimally.
Without a smart grid, it’s difficult to coordinate wind turbines, nuclear power plants and solar panels to bring energy at the right time and place. In France, for example, Linky – despite the controversies that this smart electric meter has raised – is a first step to finely measure energy consumption, household by household.
The equivalent of the smart grid for mobility is MaaS, Mobility as a Service. This system combines public and individual transport in order to offer affordable, sustainable and efficient mobility to the masses, exactly the UN’s goal. Smart grids are complex, smart mobility is even more so.
In the energy network, there is only one input: electricity. This is not the case with mobility where bicycles, cars, Ubers, metros, trains, buses, e-scooters coexist… that’s a lot of layers, right? To make the network more efficient and deliver transport to the right place at the right time, you need data.
Zeelo provides an interesting answer to this problem with intelligent and flexible public transport. For example, a Zeelo bus is used to take warehouse shift workers to work for 6am then goes on to take office workers to work for 9am.
With its Strava Metro project, Strava makes aggregated data gleaned from its runner and cyclist users available to cities. In an article for Fast Company, Gareth Nettleton, Strava’s global VP of marketing and lead of Strava Metro, clearly declared that data is the key: “Smart data analysis that tracks transport trends can empower urban planners, local councils, and academics to understand mobility patterns and predict the impact of infrastructure change”.
AI, essential to the efficiency of tomorrow’s mobility, feeds on our data like Homer Simpson gobbles up donuts.
No data, no secure network
An accessible transport system is good, a safe one is better. Moreover, the UN goal speaks clearly about improving road safety. Let’s do a little visualisation exercise (it won’t be a zen inducing one): you are in a Parisian street at 9am: you see public bikes, e-scooters, electric bikes, Ubers, buses, not to mention delivery trucks. Are you starting to stress? It’s normal.
The cohabitation between pedestrians, cars, buses and other forms of transport is difficult and sometimes dangerous, even more so for persons with disabilities or children. To answer this, Link can stop its e-scooters remotely in case of dangerous driving and Bird will automatically slow down its e-scooters in areas with a lot of pedestrians such as schools.
At the International Motor Show 2021 in Munich, BMW presented the i vision Amby, an electric bicycle that recognises the road type ridden on (bike path, road, etc.) and adapts your maximum speed accordingly. These are a few examples of how innovation and your data help make streets and sidewalks safer.
No user, no data
We have companies that innovate to offer tech and green mobility, business models that are built around MaaS, public measures to nudge people (pop-up bicycle lines in response to new behaviors due to the pandemic, financial incentives for the purchase of bicycles, etc.).
And the massive adoption in richer countries will make it possible to reduce the price of this new and exemplary mobility mode, making it available to as many people as possible by 2030. We have entrepreneurs, money and political will. We’re missing someone, right?
We forgot to talk about you, me, our moms, the Hanoi commuter or more exactly our mobility data and our desire to share it, or not. AI, essential to the efficiency of tomorrow’s mobility, feeds on our data like Homer Simpson gobbles up donuts.
In fact, the biggest obstacle to achieving the UN mobility goal is the people who are supposed to benefit from it: all of us.
Look at your car: no data sharing, no Waze or Coyote. If you don’t give your GPS location, it’s hard to send help when you have an accident. Not to mention the car insurance business models based on the pay as you drive or on how you drive model.
It’s the same for public transport: thanks to smartphone data we knew how to adapt the metro and bus offer to the flow of passengers during the pandemic curfew times.
There is an exciting thrill to letting Tesla’s autopilot drive for you, unless you cross a bus on a narrow bridge.
The problem is that no one likes to give away their data and suffer the constraints that arise from its use. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal spoke about people’s aversion to the use of their vehicle data for commercial or legal purposes.
Five years later, the situation has become more complex – the general public is now aware of the issues of privacy. And nobody wants to live what happened with the soldiers who trained using the Strava app in the Middle Eastern desert which unknowingly pointed to the location of more or less secret US military bases…
Tomorrow you will not only have to share your data but also give away a part of your driving to a third party. There is an exciting thrill to letting Tesla’s autopilot drive for you, unless you cross a bus on a narrow bridge. It can be difficult to give away your free choice when a Bird or Link operator could disconnect your scooter remotely because they disagree with your behavior.
It’s as if Linky cut your electricity because you heat your house too much: it’s good for the planet but complicated on an individual basis.
And for the future?
Are we ready to share our data for the common good of accessible, efficient and sustainable mobility?
- Assure them that their privacy is well protected.
- Make them accept that their individual freedom to move may be limited, via data analysis, for a better mobility for all.
- Convince them to authorize a third party (e-scooter, car manufacturer, etc.) to limit the speed or the access to their vehicle depending on their driving or location.
In short, it will be necessary to tackle a huge project of evangelization so that everyone understands that giving up a little of their freedom is worthwhile for better mobility for the community. As always when we talk about data, its use and privacy, the debates, like the future, are really exciting.