Smart Cities

Smart Cities and the Future of Transportation

Generations of ecologists, urban planners, and engineers have undoubtedly been influenced by the events that shaped their lives. Today, we are confronted with an infrastructure and economic challenge of epic proportions. Across the globe, our cities suffer from poor air quality and worsening congestion that strangles our roads and highways; wastes time and diminishes the savings and expendable income of families; and adversely impacts quality of life.

In recent years, technological, economic, and environmental forces have quickly given rise to “Smart Cities” – a collective of municipal public and private partnerships leveraging information and communications technology (ICT) to more intelligently and efficiently use resources with the goals of achieving energy and taxpayer savings, improving service delivery and quality of life, and reducing adverse environmental impacts – all supporting innovation, government efficiency, and environmental sustainability. While precise definitions of smart cities may vary, smart cities frequently use ICT to manage an ecosystem of civic resources including: transportation systems, telecommunications, utilities, health and human services, public safety, and other community services. In both Europe and the United States, the transport sector accounts for approximately one quarter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The European Commission estimates that more than 70% of transportation GHG-related emissions come from roadway users.

In 2011, the European Commission launched the Smart Cities and Communities Initiative providing €365 million in funding for energy, transportation, and ICT innovations. This was followed by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, announced in December 2015, which leveraged nearly $350 million in public and private funds for smart city and advanced transportation technologies. The Smart City Challenge generated 78 municipal visions for how technology could be used to overcome some of the United States’ most pressing urban transportation and environmental challenges. Together, these initiatives have pushed smart city visions from the fringe to the mainstream, as cities across the U.S. and European Union cultivate ideas for integrated, smart transportation systems that leverage data, applications, and technology to help transport people and goods. The role of transportation innovations in the broader discussion of Smart Cities has become a frequent topic of discussion.

Today, a number of cities across the globe are employing smart transportation innovations to respond to these challenges. A closer look at these innovations reveals marked differences in design, technology, and strategy. Here are six smart transportation innovations changing cities around the globe:

– Urban Transportation Takes Flight with Automated Aerial Vehicles (Dubai, United Arab Emirates) In Dubai, the Roads and Transport Authority and the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority will deploy the first autonomous aerial taxis later this year. Dubai’s pilot will be the first of its kind employing autonomous quadcopter passenger drones with aerial taxi service covering distances up to 1.6 km (10 miles/30 minutes of flying time) at speeds up to 100 km/h (60 mph) and altitudes up to 300 meters (approximately 1,000 feet). Numerous other vendors are developing prototypes and business models to provide aerial taxi services, including Airbus and Uber.

– Robotic Delivery (Austin, United States)
Around the globe, numerous cities are experimenting with autonomous delivery robots for take-out and small e-commerce deliveries. In August 2017, Austin, Texas became one of the first cities to develop a pilot program to regulate delivery robots. Under Austin’s ordinance, delivery robots must operate on sidewalks and pedestrian ways, must weigh 136kg (300lbs) or less, and operate no greater than 16/kmh (10/mph). Austin’s ordinance also mandates that delivery robots operate with a minimum of $1 million USD liability coverage that indemnifies the city.

– Drone Delivery (Cambridge, United Kingdom)
In November 2014, Amazon began testing same-day delivery using drones operating up to 80/kmh (50 mph) for up to 30 minutes of flight time delivering packages weighing up to 2.3kg (5lbs). The United Parcel Service (UPS) has also experimented with delivery drones, developing a prototype to launch a drone from the top of a delivery truck that allows the driver to make two simultaneous deliveries.

– Smart Streetcar Corridor (Kansas City, United States)
In Kansas City, Missouri, the city has opened a 3.5 km (2.2 mile) “smart” streetcar corridor including: public WiFi, smart lighting, cameras, sensors, and digital information kiosks. Sensors along the route collect data from lights, traffic signals, pavement, and water pipes to more efficiently manage traffic and the delivery of other municipal services, such as snow removal. In April 2015, Kansas City’s city council passed a resolution in support of data privacy and instructing the city’s manager to implement data privacy measures. Kansas City is one example of a local government employing smart city innovations coupled with policies recognizing the sensitivity of data and the importance of data security, privacy, and de-identification.

– Autonomous Electric Shuttle Pilot (Paris, France)
Last month, Ile-de-France Mobilités in partnership with Keolis and Navya launched a six-month pilot deploying three fully autonomous electric shuttles in La Défense, a central business district with 180,000 daily workers on the western side of Paris (just outside the city limits). Each shuttle can carry 15 passengers (11 seated and 4 standing), operating with 10-minute headways during peak periods and 20-minute headways during off-peak times. Paris represents one example of how autonomous electric shuttles are being actively tested, which could soon reshape public transportation.

– Uber’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (San Francisco, United States)
In December 2016, the ridesourcing app Uber acquired Geometric Intelligence to create an artificial intelligence laboratory at its San Francisco headquarters. In transportation, artificial intelligence and machine learning have the opportunity to deliver predictive data analysis capability, such as forecasting supply and demand and relocating transportation assets real-time to quickly identify and respond to service gaps and disruptions. Artificial intelligence can also be used to predict a user’s travel behavior and offer recommendations. For example, Google Now allows users to set location- and time-based reminders (e.g., reminding a user to make a purchase when they are near a retailer). In the future, artificial intelligence and machine learning may be able to preposition transportation modes (e.g., automated taxis) by linking to a user’s calendars or learning a user’s routine travel behavior.

The increasing availability, capability, and affordability of intelligent transportation systems, global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), wireless, and cloud technologies are reshaping the way people travel, and consume goods and services. Together this suite of automated and autonomous passenger and goods deliver innovations will have a transformative effect on cities around the globe. While the full impact of these technologies is only just beginning to be recognized, these six Smart City innovations could be among the biggest game changers for passenger mobility and last mile delivery over the next five years.


Written by Susan Shaheen and Adam Cohen

Susan Shaheen is an internationally recognized expert in shared mobility. She is also actively involved in researching automated vehicles and alternative fuel vehicles. She is an adjunct professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Co-Director of the Transportation Sustainability Research Center (TSRC) of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California (UC), Berkeley.

Adam Cohen is a shared mobility researcher at TSRC, UC Berkeley. Since joining the group in 2004, his research has focused on innovative urban mobility solutions, including shared mobility, Smart Cities technologies, smartphone apps, and other emerging technologies.

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