On-Demand and Autonomous: The Transformation of Work

The Mobility Revolution – made up of a move toward environmentally-aware, quality-of-life enhancing electric, autonomous and shared vehicles – is actually part of a broader transformation that has been called the Third (or Fourth) Industrial Revolution. It not just changes how we live, work and move around in our increasingly urban and nomadic lives, it challenges working models that have existed even before the first (and second) Industrial Revolution.

When Time Magazine declared Travis Kalanick a runner-up to Angela Merkel in its annual “Person of the Year” issue, it wasn’t because Uber made a better taxi-service. It was for “changing the nature of work”. Indeed, Uber itself sees itself not even as a mobility company, but as a transport logistics company that simply brings together suppliers and customers of anything that needs to move from A to B, be it people, food, or Christmas trees.

In a very similar way, TaskRabbit, Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer and countless other platforms matching tasks and jobs with on-demand talent, are creating an entire generation of micro-entrepreneurs. The number of self-employed has gradually increased (while this is clearly evident in Generation Y, recent research shows that self-employment even peaks in later years).

Robots: not just your next driver

There is another element to the new industrial paradigm. Just as the impact of the sharing economy isn’t just limited to the automotive industry, the increasing capabilities of robots aren’t just enabling autonomous transport.

Today’s computer chips replicate the sheer processing capability of a common mouse; by Moore’s Law (often said to be “ending”, but proved correct for over 50 years), processors will eclipse the human brain by around 2025.

Combining processing power with code to not replicate unfavourable results (that is, to not repeat mistakes) leads to learning computers, or A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) – a prospect that admittedly worries both Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk. When, in turn, this capability is matched with improving mechanical precision, we have learning robots that today are already better at certain surgical procedures, being used to transform banking, provide 24/7 security and surveillance, and even execute military operations.

Most certainly, they are better drivers – autonomous pilots have shown to be safer in mining operations, in airplanes, in cities and on highways. In short, we should get used to the notion that any activity that requires some manual precision, but is also repetitive and monotonous can better be done by robots.

What is left for us humans then? Well, as Brynjolfsson and McAfee have illustrated, a considerable number of job-descriptions may be at risk in the new machine age, but tasks that require high cognitive and creative inputs, and are highly specialized, will boom.

While robots and AI will replace the mundane, the repetitive and the dangerous (like your morning commute), it’s still safe to ignore the avalanche of doomsday scenarios that postulate that 35-45 percent of jobs will be gone.

In fact, quite the opposite is true. Greater transparency of available talents and activities, easier and lower-cost mobility, and countless new and independently-defined job-roles will empower a greater number of people to work in creative endeavors.

In turn, as Richard Florida has argued consistently, this release of creativity and passion, which forms the backbone of innovation, will drive regional economic growth, as the shackles of mundane and employment will be unleashed on millions of workers. At the same time, the sharing economy will facilitate bringing together the right minds to transform our economy with new ideas and concepts.

So we’ll see robots do those activities that have underwhelmed our minds: surveillance, accounting, driving, producing… We’ll use on-demand platforms to bring together those irreplaceable inventors, those non-digital creative minds, and those uniquely skilled process engineers that can do that which robots can’t do… We’ll unleash the power of our human minds to create, invent, and deploy new products, processes and business models.

What do you think? How are the future of mobility and the future of work linked? How will autonomous and on-demand business models impact the workforce? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.

Electric Mobility: A Look Into the Future

Public interest in finding alternatives to Diesel continues to grow. People are becoming more and more aware of their own health in cities – and less and less tolerant of harmful emissions. In ten years’ time, 2015 will be seen to have been a watershed moment in the progression toward zero-emissions transport. In our interview, Lukas Neckermann, an entrepreneur and strategy advisor explains how vehicle electrification will impact other industries and explains the roadmap towards zero-emissions transportation.

Do you think electric vehicles are disruptive? Are they transformative? Why?

Electric vehicles themselves are not new – they have existed for over 120 years and in fact were part of Thomas Edison’s original vision for electrification. What is new and disruptive, however, is the confluence of battery and charging technologies that are enabling a driving range in-line with our expectations, and giving rise to countless automotive and mobility start-ups. It is these start-ups that are disrupting a certain stasis that has existed among automotive brands and companies for decades.

What is genuinely transformative, however, is the effect that vehicle electrification will have on other fields – oil, energy, construction, financial services, retail, urban planning and architecture are all impacted as our cities and suburban areas are reimagined and rebuilt for electric vehicles, as well as carsharing.

How can electric cars be made more affordable and attractive to consumers?

For fleet buyers, it is always a rational choice, wherein emotion succumbs to logic. The relevant measure there is Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). When considering parking, road-taxes, congestion charges, fuel cost, reduced maintenance costs and downtime, as well as government incentives and residual value, hybrid and electric vehicles already are the most economical choice. This can already be seen in the countless city taxi and urban logistics fleets that are adopting hybrid vehicles, rather than traditional (and now unfavorable) Diesels.

For individual buyers, who are still very much led by design and emotion in their purchase decision, it is simply a question of having enough vehicle choice, and not having to compromise substantially. It is also a question of raising awareness on the wider choice and attractiveness of hybrid and electric vehicles that offer clear space, design, cost and performance benefits in comparison to their petrol and diesel counterparts.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that almost 80 percent of automobiles sold in 2050 will be plug-in hybrids, electrics, or will be powered by fuel cells? What do you think?

They are much too conservative in their estimate. Over 80 percent of new vehicles will be electric or hybrid at least 20 years before their target date. It will take a bit longer, however, to replace the rolling stock, bearing in mind that the average age of vehicles on the road can be over 10 years, depending on the country, but therein lies the scale of the opportunity: there are over 1 Billion vehicles on the road today, all of which will eventually need to be replaced.

How will electric mobility compensate for the scarcity of fossil fuels and how does it positively impact the environment?

It has been said before, but bears repeating: the Stone Age did not end for a lack of stones; the oil age will not end because the Earth runs out of oil. Regardless how much there is left in the ground, using fossil fuels for ground transportation will end well before it runs out.

Electric mobility will simply evolve as a vastly superior, more efficient, and ultimately more environmentally compatible method of propulsion when compared to petrol or oil. What is important, however, is that we progressively generate more and more of the energy for electric vehicles from renewable sources. A number of countries, cities and companies are already addressing this, with aggressive commitments to sourcing only renewable energy.

What role does electric mobility play in the world of shared economy or collaborative consumption? Can you give us some examples?

Electric mobility and shared mobility go hand-in hand, in particular in urban environments, where residents are increasingly giving up car-ownership in favor of shared-use models. In some cities, the number of charging stations is already greater than the number of petrol stations, so it seems a natural fit to match charging stations with carsharing pick-up points. Expect a wave of fully-electric shared mobility concepts roll-out in cities – with both two and four wheels, by the way!

It is not restricted to cities, however. There is a decrease in the number of people who apply for driving tests and driving licenses, but sometimes city-dwellers want to go on longer trips, too. So, there is ample opportunity for collaborative transport over long distances. Ride-sharing will grow as an alternative to buses and trains, just as it already provides an alternative to taxis today.

How does electric mobility impact the future of public transportation?

There is a long history of transport electrification in cities already – starting with trains and subways, continuing to trams and buses. This is continuing, as cities recognize health risks for their residents associated with particulate and NOX (Nitrogen Oxide) emissions. Progressive cities are beginning to focus on quality of life as a key differentiator. Countless cities are already committing to buy either hybrid (as an interim step) or fully-electric buses. Some, like London, are imposing that even taxi fleets become electrified.

How else will electric and shared mobility change cities?

In general, electric and shared mobility makes cities cleaner, quieter, more efficient and therefore more livable. We are already seeing cities making private vehicle use more and more unattractive – with less parking available and more tolls and charges. This is a conscious effort to reduce inner-city emissions and congestion, and increase use of public transportation. It will ultimately also release infrastructure space for redevelopment.

For example, New York has shut down a part of Broadway near Times Square for traffic and turned it into a pedestrian zone, Mexico City is taking a 10-lane highway and turning it into a park, and London intends to build a bicycle superhighway. As private vehicles in cities are reduced, we will also see parking lots be infilled with attractive new residential and retail buildings.

What else do you see on the horizon?

In terms of further breakthroughs, inductive charging will become a true enabler to allow for range-unlimited electric fleets – both within cities and for long-range applications. Several countries – notably, the UK – have already run tests and evaluated the feasibility and risks associated with electrifying streets, with very promising results. It is reasonable to assume that energy will become as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi within the next decade or two.

Do you think electric mobility will play a key role in ensuring sustainable transportation? Tell us your reasons in the comment section.

The Future of Dynamic Wireless Charging

Making the dream of electric, autonomous and shared mobility a reality requires a series of enabling technologies. One of the keys to our upcoming mobility revolution – both in urban areas and over long distances – is dynamic wireless charging.

Fleets of autonomous, shared vehicles that pick you up, drive you to your desired location, and drop you off before continuing on their way already form part of the long-term vision behind the large carsharing and ridesharing providers, as well as some farsighted start-ups. No doubt that these zero-accident, zero-driver vehicles should also be fully electric, but without a driver, how would they be charged?

Inductive charging is already familiar to anyone with an electric toothbrush, or visitors to a certain coffee-shop chain who has installed inductive charging devices for mobile phones in thousands of locations. Less familiar will be that inductive charging of vehicles is already being trialled on certain bus routes, including in Gumi (South Korea), Milton Keynes (UK), Malaga (Spain) and Berlin.

For buses, inductive charging makes perfect sense: the road-level hardware can be installed in specific locations along a defined route, while the buses themselves have a vastly lower battery capacity – and therefore lower weight.

Stationary and semi-dynamic wireless charging can (and shortly surely will, in London) be applied to taxis. Taxi ranks at train stations and airports will supply the energy and the driver would not need to plug-in or even get out of her cab. The same technology is also conceivable for parking lots, or even pick-up lanes of restaurants.

Dynamic charging at highway speeds

Once vehicles leave the cities, however, they should not be stranded without a charge. The aim must be to integrate fully dynamic charging capability into highways for high-speed wireless energy transfer.

Great Britain is perhaps most ambitious in Europe. After recently completing a feasibility study, it now intends to trial dynamic wireless charging, at least in closed environments, by 2016. The UK government has pledged to support this vision with a potential investment of £500 million.



Within urban environments, both on-demand public transportation and self-driving shared vehicles will be enabled by stationary and semi-dynamic wireless charging; outside of cities, range-anxiety can truly and finally become a thing of the past, as cars could be charged en-route, even for long-distance journeys.

However, it is commercial vehicles and trucks that stand to gain most from the promise of dynamic wireless charging – while autonomous technology will permit trucks to drive with zero accidents, zero drivers and zero stopping, it is inductive charging that will enable them to fulfill a zero emissions promise as well.

What other industries will be affected as wireless charging is rolled out in cities and on highways? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

Please note that this article expresses the opinions of the author and does not reflect the views of Move Forward.