Let’s start this article with a quick journey into the future, to see how connected inter-mobility could look like:
7:30h on a Monday morning – Thomas, a father of two, is waking up his family and getting ready for the day. This day is special to him, because he will present his project results to the management in Oslo, but he lives in Cologne, so he needs a way to get there. He checks his travel app which informs him that the school bus for his children will arrive soon and that his transportation is on its way too. On his phone, he already has a ticket for a door-to-door transport, literally starting at his house door all the way to the entrance of the the company’s headquarters.
The school bus arriving at the house is powered by an electric-hydrogen engine and drives autonomously. However, this bus still has a “driver”, but more to supervise the kids than for safety reasons. The system steering the bus uses a navigation-software, calculating the best route from house to house to ensure a time and energy efficient use of the bus.
Thomas’ transport arrives – it looks like a normal taxi but isn’t, because there is nobody driving it. The IT-system behind the car knows from where to where the customers wants to be transported and – in this case – is informs his Air-Taxi when he will arrive. Unfortunately, there is no direct flight today from Cologne to Oslo so he needs to get to Duesseldorf first. Finally, upon arriving at the Duesseldorf airport, he has time to get something to drink and watch the life on the ramp. His air plane is being prepared for the flight. Thomas wonders about there only being one pilot preparing the cockpit while all of these little baggage cars are driving autonomously to the plane. He still remembers the time, when the ramp was like a ants’ nest and hundreds of people were working at the airport, but time changed.
You might think that this example is in the far future and we need years to get there. However, this is not the case: this future can be your reality in about 5-10 years, because nearly all of the described technologies already exist. For instance, an inter-connected software able to calculate the best routes and informing other systems in the transportation chain when the “package” arrives? Sounds like Amazon or your pizza delivery service, right? You are right, such a quantum-inspired software is already being used today.
The single-pilot-cockpit in an airliner will be a new standard in a couple of years. Today avionic and navigation systems are already capable of flying planes autonomously (including take off and landing), the “pilot” will become a system administrator and will exist (only) for passenger comfort. In Cargo transportation, the cockpit will be on the ground, just supporting the system in case of malfunction and allowing one pilot to observe two or more flights simultaneously. Aviation will play a big part in inter-modular connected mobility in the near future. Therefore, software and technology will be required to fulfil these tasks. Furthermore, such a mobility concept will be time and energy efficient, can be driven by zero-emission electric-hydrogen engines and still be flexible for customer-oriented services.
Question is, why are we not already sitting in taxi drones and able to use the mobility of Thomas? The overall answer to that question is safety and infrastructure – mainly digital infrastructure. All these systems need to be reliable during the entire time of operation. Plus, the connectivity aspect requires a suitable digital infrastructure to exchange information/data in real time and especially Germany needs improvement on that topic.
In other words, we are nearly there, but there is still some work to do!