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Cities are under pressure on multiple fronts: growing population, increasing traffic congestion and pollution, and demands to meet sustainability initiatives. Fortunately, solutions like micromobility might help alleviate some of these challenges.
Half of the world's population lives in urban centers, and that percentage is expected to grow by 2050. Building more roads to accommodate transportation needs is not affordable on city budgets, nor does it meet sustainability targets. Public transit helps but often does not serve all areas equally. Residents still need to overcome the "last-mile challenge"—how to get to and from the transit stop. Micromobility bridges these gaps and offers a host of additional advantages.
Micromobility units travel at low speeds, do not use fossil fuels, and carry just one or two people at a time. They are designed for use in bike lanes. Today’s micromobility usually means electric scooters and bikes.
The format’s many advantages include:
The significant and promising opportunities that micromobility deliver are best when coupled with the Internet of Things (IoT). As with most other applications where IoT finds uses, the technology helps in two ways. IoT works in real-time at the "edge" and delivers data that city planners can aggregate and analyze to study long-term transportation needs and trends.
Depending on data needs, a micromobility unit can accommodate a variety of sensors: near-field communication (NFC) for unlocking the vehicle and online payments; a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) sensor to track location in a fleet, a sound sensor that can alert to warn pedestrians and a motion sensor. In advanced instances, the micromobility vehicle can use air quality and noise sensors to record ambient data and relay this to third parties for environmental quality analysis.
An IoT-driven micromobility unit can communicate with fleet managers to relay location, providing better visibility into each unit. By tracking location data over time, micromobility providers can determine peak use trends and plan allotments accordingly. IoT also enables vehicle-to-vehicle communication (V2C) between the unit and other vehicles on the road for less congested traffic flow. Similarly, proximity sensors can alert pedestrians on the road about the unit’s presence and thereby, improve safety.
IoT helps users return units to docking stations safely and aids providers in fleet maintenance. IoT data from micromobility fleets can signal when a unit is about to malfunction for predictive maintenance. IoT usage patterns of time and location can also help city planners plan infrastructure to make room for competing transit solutions.
While low-impact vehicles for the last kilometer are a good idea, the concept is not without some stumbling blocks.
The problem of adoption and mindset among consumers and city planners is significant. In 2019, people took 136 million trips on shared bikes and scooters, a jump of 60 percent from the year prior. The growth chart looks promising, with the global market expected to reach $150 billion by 2025. City planners, who worry about micromobility solutions taking precious real estate away from sidewalks and car lanes, must work toward viable solutions that accommodate new transportation and delivery methods (autonomous delivery robots are already here).
Strewn-about scooters have created ill-will in under-equipped cities to deal with them. Micromobility vendors can decrease these incidents by IoT-driven sensors that guide users to charging docks or imposing a fee for violations.
Connectivity on the road is another challenge that will test the utility of micromobility. When users cannot reliably engage a scooter or dock it in the right place when done, they will not adopt the solution readily. 5G and wide area networks (WAN) are expected to provide the necessary communication infrastructure.
Poor user behavior—driving on sidewalks instead of assigned bike lanes—will adversely impact government attitudes and safety. These too can use some input from IoT data and from proactive governmental frameworks that accommodate multi-modal transportation solutions.
Fortunately, these challenges accommodate workable solutions, which can pave the way for micromobility. According to McKinsey, there is an increased appetite for sustainable mobility solutions, which is good news for consumers—and the planet.
Poornima Apte is an engineer turned writer with B2B specialties in robotics, AI, cybersecurity, smart technologies and digital transformation. Find her on Twitter @booksnfreshair.
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