The 5 technologies reshaping the next decade of mobility
Technology is changing everything about the way we move through the world. Here are the technologies that will redefine the next decade of transportation
This story is part of "The Future of Mobility," a Protocol special report. Read more here.
It would hardly be a stretch to say that the future of mobility rests on the shoulders of data. Success in this sector in the coming decade will be measured by the ability to capture, harness, and leverage the endless tons of driving and transit data produced on a daily basis. Municipalities, automakers, and micromobility startups will all need to rely on data insights to meet their mobility goals, from optimizing traffic flow to building and managing smart infrastructure, determining coordinates for new charging stations and e-bike docks, or alerting drivers to obstructions in the road ahead. The future of transport will be all about ease, safety, sustainability, and customization, all of which rely on comprehensive user data.
Speaking to Protocol, Microsoft worldwide director of critical infrastructure Jeremy M. Goldberg called out the importance of integrating data into every stage of mobility transformation: “IoT devices, vehicles, cameras, and all of that allows for a lot more integration and communication between those modes of transit than ever before. We're just beginning to see some of this implemented by transit agencies around the globe and it certainly will be the case over the next 10 years. So this means that we should expect to see real-time management across an entire system.”
Artificial intelligence will continue to play an indispensable part in the next decade of transportation, leveraging data and powering smart infrastructure across the sector — but its most highly anticipated role is in the pursuit of autonomous transit. It’s notoriously risky to put a time limit on autonomous vehicles: After more than 10 years and $160 billion of investment, we’re still driving our own cars, but leading automakers and innovators are not giving up on the dream of not driving. The market is crowded with both legacy companies and startups racing to break through. We’ve seen some promising results in the case of autonomous cargo transit, both on land and at sea, and in October, Waymo announced its intention to bring its autonomous taxis to Los Angeles, with existing fleets already operating in Phoenix and San Francisco.
Will you have an autonomous vehicle in your garage by 2032? Perhaps not, but in the next 10 years we will see autonomous technology evolve and integrate into personal vehicles, public transit, and the transportation of goods across the world.
All-purpose mobility apps
Imagine your aunt is coming to visit, and you want to send a car to pick her up from the airport, but you also need to bike to the dry cleaner, monitor traffic so you don’t miss your dinner reservation, catch the bus back home, and, oh, it might rain. This is a dream scenario for the one-stop-shop mobility app, also known as mobility as a service or MaaS.
MaaS is the idea that all of your mobility needs can be handled in one app and paid for either per ride or by short- to long-term subscriptions. While the proposition has appeal for users, both local and tourist, MaaS requires an ambitious blend of public-private partnerships. Not only do all of the services have to exist in the same app, all payments must be processed in that same place, and all partners have to agree to a certain degree of data sharing to ensure they are providing users with the most competitive routes and services. The concept of mobility as a service has made a strong entrance into the transportation market in recent years, but the next decade will be all about perfecting and launching those platforms to the public in data-driven cities across the world.
Sustainable aviation fuels
Who wouldn’t want to fly organically? Sustainable aviation fuels offer a much-needed solution to air travel’s worrying carbon footprint. Perfecting and scaling these low-carbon biofuels, typically made from natural biomass, will be a major priority in the coming decade.
Last September, the Biden White House announced new executive actions to advance sustainable fuels in aviation and the launch of the Sustainable Aviation Fuel Grand Challenge. The challenge aims to meet a production goal of 3 billion gallons of SAF by 2030. For context, in 2021 U.S. airlines used a total of 13.78 billion gallons of fuel. The long-term goals are significantly more ambitious: “Achieving a minimum of a 50% reduction in life cycle greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional fuel,” and “meeting a goal of supplying sufficient SAF to meet 100% of aviation fuel demand by 2050.” Supporters of this tech recently received an extra incentive through the Inflation Reduction Act, which raised the tax credit for SAF to $1.25 to $1.75 per gallon.
The biggest barriers to meeting these goals are, unsurprisingly, time and cost. Sustainable fuels are currently far more expensive to produce than conventional fuel, and not enough people are making them. While this technology will not arrive at scale in time to significantly lower emissions by 2030, the next decade will be a crucial time for perfecting the formula and the price point. The first company to get that combination right could be ushering in a new era of sustainable air travel.
Electric vehicles will only continue to grow their share of the global market in the next decade. Impending climate goals, further investments in the availability of superchargers, and the continued volatility of fuel prices will move more consumers to purchase their first, or second, EV. In a Harris Poll recently conducted by Protocol, 51% of U.S. adults today stated that they would like to buy an electric vehicle as their next personal vehicle. Speaking to Protocol, Kersten Heineke, co-lead of McKinsey's Center for Future Mobility, predicted that EVs would soon take over the market: “In the next 10 years, everybody will buy their first electric vehicle — at least everybody in the Western Hemisphere, in China, and maybe some other Asian countries.”
Electrification is of course not limited to cars. We can expect to see other major sources of transit, including railways, buses, and planes go electric over the next decade, and we should not underestimate the emergence of e-micromobility. Small EVs currently account for the majority of global electrification, thanks largely to their massive popularity in Asia. Other major cities around the world such as Paris and Milan are overhauling their infrastructure to prioritize smaller forms of transport, from bikes and e-bikes to electric scooters and mopeds. Over the next decade, we will see even more cities rethinking their infrastructure to support sustainable, electric transit.