Alternative means of transport – aka ‘micro-mobility’ solutions – including vehicles as varied as scooters, bicycles and gyropods, are all perfectly aligned with the aim of making tomorrow’s cities more environmentally responsible. These vehicles use either human propulsion and/or small electric motors to get their drivers around, and they are by nature non-polluting. However, their low-tech architecture, which is not geared to integrating complex electronics, makes them automatically less suited to moving around in urban areas where the traffic will soon be directed by digital technology.
use a bicycle to get to work
In France, close to 500,000 people, i.e. 1.9% of the working population, reported using their bicycles to go to and from work in 2015. In Paris, 4.2% of all employed people get to their workplace on a bicycle, which is twice the natural average, but still lower than the average of 6% for cities with over 200,000 inhabitants.
So when the day comes that all vehicles on the road will need to collect and emit data on an ongoing basis in order to find the right direction, go forward, turn or brake, where will that leave alternative modes of transport? In fact, there are quite a number of initiatives underway – by manufacturers, startups and users – to ensure that micro-mobility solutions will remain in widespread use in the Smart City of tomorrow.
MICRO-MOBILITy re-sHAPING the city
Alternative but connected
Digital Strategic Analyst
at L'Atelier BNP Paribas
The Smart City will be the ‘fifteen-minute’ city. So there’ll be a great need for micro-mobility solutions. It won’t be the other way round
Over the last few years, bikes have started to go digital. Velco, a company based in the French city of Nantes, which designed Wink Bar, the first-ever connected handlebar, was a finalist in the sixth annual official ‘pitch’ event for startups exhibiting at Eureka Park (the startup area) during CES 2018 in Las Vegas a little over two months ago. This invention has launched cycling into the digital era. Integrated in the Wink Bar is a GPS system which uses, instead of a screen, indicator lights to show the cyclist the way to go, enabling him/her to stay focused on the road ahead. Wink Bar has been designed as a ‘2.0 co-pilot’, in the sense that it assists cyclists throughout their journey. The associated app counts the number of kilometres you have ridden and the calories burned while on the bike, enables you to geolocate your two-wheeler if you forget where you left it, and also provides access to a panoply of complementary services.In similar vein, the SmrtGRiPS smart handlebar grips designed by the company of that name also has a GPS and a smartphone app to guide cyclists through the city, but this product works on the basis of handgrips which vibrate to indicate the direction you need to take. If you need to turn right or left at an intersection, the right or left handle will vibrate, as appropriate. If your intended route lies straight ahead, both will vibrate.
The same thing is happening with electric scooters. Last year, Chinese firm Xiaomi had already launched a smart scooter called the M365, with a whole range of connected applications. Very recently, French company Archos, which specialises in smartphones and tablets, unveiled Citee Connect, a connected scooter with a 3G antenna, that works with the Android operating system. With a five-inch touchscreen on the handlebar and the Google Maps app installed, it helps the rider find the shortest journey, geolocate the scooter on an ongoing basis, and know his/her speed and the number of kilometres ridden. Even gyropods are now becoming connected. Designed as an environmentally-friendly solution for getting from one place to another in the city, French manufacturer Segway’s Ninebot E+ now for the first time enjoys Bluetooth connectivity, which means it has access to a range of functionality, not least enabling you to keep an eye on your gyropod remotely.
These innovations illustrate the ingenuity shown by startups and manufacturers in adapting personalised urban transport to the digital era by enabling them to draw on data. This is for the moment still rather limited, but it does represent a first step. However, when we talk about connected transport we also need to think about infrastructure that can incorporate micro-mobility solutions and allow them to play their part in the Smart City concept. Stéphane Leguet, a Digital Strategic Analyst at l'Atelier BNP Paribas, argues that “the Smart City will be the ‘fifteen-minute’ city. Whether we’re talking about schools, shops, workplaces, co-working, leisure or housing, hyper-proximity with and hyper-accessibility to all aspects of the urban environment will be a key element of the city of the future. So there’ll be a great need for micro-mobility solutions. It won’t be the other way round”.
Meanwhile, a 2010 report from the Paris Region Planning and Develoment Agency (IAU) revealed that 240,000 journeys were being made by bicycle in the capital on a daily basis, 80,000 of them using the ‘Vélib' bike sharing system. In the ten years from 2000 to 2010, bicycle use for travelling around the city tripled to reach 3% of all intra-Paris journeys.
CONNECTed cities ENCOURAGE MICRO-MOBILITy
Smart travelling and parking
“We’re gradually realising that if most people travel by bike we’ll have a livelier, safer, more sustainable and healthier city.”
Jan Gehl, architect and town planner
Progress achieved in connected intersections, which in the near future will make it possible to regulate self-driving vehicle traffic in cities, already means that cyclists and pedestrians can be taken into account when modelling traffic patterns in real time, so as to avoid accidents. In the same vein, digitalising Segway personal transporters, scooters and the like means that, in the longer term, ‘vehicle to vehicle (V2V) ’ systems could be developed so as to enable a bicycle or a gyropod to be identified precisely by the smart systems regulating the traffic. These systems rely on drivers’ smartphones, so it would now be possible for a gyropod or scooter user to activate the service while en route.
new smart INFRASTRUCTURE for cyclists
Meanwhile innovative approaches to parking are appearing as well. London-based startup Ecocycle has developed a futuristic parking system for bicycles, based on an environmentally-friendly, space-saving concept. The company’s engineers have invented a smart parking system in the shape of a tower. The bicycles are attached to rails, which can be raised and lowered, allowing storage of 200 bikes in each structure. An integrated circuit (IC) chip enables recognition of the bicycle owner, who can then store or recover his/her bike.
This is not the only card that city authorities have up their sleeve when it comes to storing micro-mobility vehicles. Architect Norman Foster is working in partnership with London Mayor’s office on a ground-breaking project to build ten cycle lanes, 220 kilometres of track, above the old railway lines girding the city. The cycle lanes, which will have their own traffic lights, are designed to ease traffic congestion and at the same time provide a dedicated space for cyclists.
There is still a lot to do before personalised urban mobility solutions can be fully integrated into the city of the future. But smart bicycles and the connected gyropod are not just about fashion or enabling startups and vehicle builders to keep up with the times. These innovations are in fact perfectly aligned with the Smart City urban model, characterised by hyper-accessibility and based on digital technology and the Sharing Economy. So these alternative means of transport are likely to find the winds blowing in their favour in the near future, even more than they are today.