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What can automated mobility contribute to achieve climate goals?

Jun 15, 2020

How are automated mobility and climate related? What measures should be taken to achieve positive effects? Our head of the Team Automated & Clean Mobility, Wolfram Klar, provides an answer to these and other questions.

When thinking about automation, many people have comfort, "hands off the wheel" or robo-taxis in mind. But automated mobility is much more, isn't it?

It is important to remember that automation is actually much more than just "hands off the wheel". A distinction must be made between what drivers or vehicles are already allowed or able to do in various situations today and what will be possible in Level 4 and 5 of networked mobility services in the future. In between, there are many nuances and gradations, both in terms of where such systems can be used and in terms of their temporal feasibility. On the basis of feedback, for example from the Citizens' Debate, one can see that people have a positive attitude towards automation in principle and recognise the opportunities it offers. Of course there is also uncertainty - but here we are constantly trying to raise awareness.

Traffic development through new technologies and the impact on climate targets: how can we prevent higher traffic volumes? How can automated mobility also reduce CO2 emissions?

I think that the effects that can be drawn from automation in the direction of climate targets can be realised if we integrate automation well into the overall planning - and do not just think of the vehicle or the transport sector alone. If the only output is that my car drives automatically, then I have a comfort or safety gain that will lead to more and longer journeys and therefore is not necessarily good for the environment even with more environmentally friendly drives. However, if automation is taken into account in spatial development or urban planning and mobility supply and demand change as a result, I can change the way settlements are developed and ensure that automated mobility complements public transport. Another example is freight transport. If the automation of freight transport also enables better management of the flow of goods, this will have positive effects on capacity utilisation, true costs and traffic flow. And on the basis of the data and information generated, it is possible to manage transport across modes in an environmentally oriented manner and to coordinate services. But of course this cannot happen overnight. The changeover is a slow development - not only from a technical point of view, but also in terms of organisational adjustments along the logistics chain, and also in terms of the development of professions. Apart from its use in freight transport and its importance for spatial design, there is also interesting potential in combination with traffic management - especially if it is not just individual vehicles but fleets of vehicles with managed pooling options. This would make it possible to reduce traffic jams, optimise routes and make driving itself CO2-neutral.

What measures should therefore be taken?

The entire phase in which we have both conventional and automated vehicles on the road at the same time is a major challenge. Reliable control mechanisms are needed for all types of vehicles, which is why the expansion of the digital infrastructure is so important right now. In addition to achieving technical maturity, there is also a need for education and persuasion at a social level. The idea of the driverless/steering-wheel-less vehicle is not yet tangible for many people. In public transport, users can already experience automation technologies that are not yet generally available in individual transport. Taking the next step in this direction would perhaps be easier for users to accept. In my opinion, politicians, cities and municipalities should take a first step in this direction, provided that technical developments make implementation possible.

The first measures would therefore be to raise awareness of the possibilities offered by automation. Secondly, the creation of control options for networked and partially automated vehicles. And thirdly, the focus should be placed on service-oriented offers in passenger and freight transport in order to strengthen the acceptance of automation. 

Automation is often coupled with e-mobility. Does this represent a compelling necessity?

Coupling automation with e-mobility makes sense in many areas, but is not absolutely necessary. In principle, a combustion engine is also possible in automated vehicles - it depends on the intended use of the vehicles. In the medium term, however, the interaction between automation and electrification will open up new possibilities - especially in the context of new services. In the discussion on automation, we usually have three components to consider: Firstly, the development of the automation itself, secondly, the technical side - for example, which drive system is used, and thirdly, the question of who owns the vehicle plays a role. After all, sharing is also an important aspect in the context of automation and climate impact - a corresponding integrated overall system has strong positive effects, but a single vehicle is unlikely to have any.

Where does the Contact Point Automated Mobility come in?

The focus of the Contact Point Automated Mobility is primarily on the support of development opportunities in the field of automated mobility, which includes testing as well as the provision of information or networking of stakeholders or the operational coordination of accompanying measures - as defined in the action package of the BMK. If there are good synergies on the topic of environmental impact, we take them up actively. But it is always important to look at the system as a whole. This means that traffic management, urban and settlement development, and the development of new mobility services must be strongly integrated - this is the way to make a difference.