Time for smart mobility solutions

This is an extraordinary era for cities. More people live in cities than ever before – according to figures from the United Nations, 55% of the world’s population live in urban areas, a proportion that is expected to increase to 68% by 2050.

The age of cities

This urbanisation trend introduces a paradox: the more attractive cities become, the more people flock there. Yet the associated challenges of a swelling urban population, such as housing affordability and travel congestion, essentially undermine cities’ fundamental draw. Thankfully, there is an answer. Innovative technology can be used to optimise city operations, ease urban traffic flows and boost a city’s liveability factor. Thus, the concept of a smart city is brought to life.

So just how will we navigate these smart cities of the future? Picture this: an autonomous vehicle (AV) picks you up from your front door. While the vehicle smoothly transports you to the office, you quickly catch up on some work emails on your laptop and jot down some notes for an important morning meeting ahead. After it drops you off, in the age of the sharing economy, it then heads off to transport another person to their desired destination. When you’re finished work for the day, open an app, hail a ride, and an AV picks you up again for your journey home.

It’s a realistic vision of the near future and one that I personally subscribe to. With the right city planning in place, AVs and other innovative, technology-led smart mobility solutions – such as e-scooters, electric bikes and electric cars – will transform the way we move around cities, helping overstressed urban centres reduce carbon emissions and, moreover, transforming the real estate sector: a 10% increase in the ‘connectedness’ of a city increases the real estate market’s performance by 8.2%, according to a report by CBRE.

Fast Finnish

To catch a glimpse of the future, head to Helsinki – a global pioneer in terms of smart mobility. By 2025, the residents of Helsinki should no longer need a private car and the city aims to be carbon-neutral by 2035. “Integrated mobility (MaaS) will revolutionise how people move from A to B, allowing people to move around without using their own car,” says Oliver Bonfils, business advisor for the Helsinki Business Hub, an international trade and investment promotion agency. Legislation already allows AVs without a driver on Helsinki’s public roads, his colleague Sonja Malin reveals, while incentives encourage real estate investors to promote car sharing in their parking spaces. Helsinki isn’t the only city leading the AV revolution. Equally impressive is the Swedish city of Gothenburg, the first city in the world to look at the interaction between AVs and long-term sustainable urban development, examining just what the city will need in future in terms of streets, buildings, car parks and public spaces.

"Owning a car will be a lot like owning a horse. You will only be owning it for sentimental reasons."

 Elon Musk, founder of electric carmaker Tesla Inc.

An electric ferry runs along the Göta River and electric buses roll along Gothenburg’s streets as the city gradually makes the transition to electric transport. “This is about a completely different approach to mobility,” says Anna Svensson, project manager at the City Planning Authority. “In just a few years, the world will change!”

Just like owning a horse

The words of Elon Musk, founder of electric carmaker Tesla Inc. spring to mind: “Owning a car will be a lot like owning a horse. You will only be owning it for sentimental reasons.”

Still feeling eager to hold on to your own four wheels? What might sway you is the cost factor. Using AVs as a driverless taxi service will decrease the cost of mobility by an estimated 85%, while using driverless buses will sink costs by 50%, explains Fredy Hasenmaile, head of Real Estate Economics at Credit Suisse. “When something is cheaper, people use it more.” No longer relying on a private vehicle also means we won’t need to build as many parking spaces in the city centre, freeing up urban spaces for other real estate projects. I for one would welcome fewer cars on the roads, but sadly AVs won’t necessarily mean less traffic. Certainly, the number of registered vehicles will fall by three million but the popularity of robotic taxis and shuttles will mean more traffic, more mobility, more congestion and more traffic jams. In fact, by the time all cars are fully AVs, road usage will have increased fivefold, says Hasenmaile.

It’s not all about urban development either. Our country cousins will equally be hit by the advent of smart mobility. But for the better. AVs will trigger a huge shift in the residential property market, turning the suburbs and countryside into potential property hotspots, explains Hasenmaile. “Cities currently offer a convenient public transport system, but this advantage will decrease if AVs become more available and offer the same quality of mobility in rural areas.”

Flying taxis

It’s not all about AVs. Let’s look skywards for the next smart mobility solution. In future, air taxis – or flying drones with human passengers – might also be jetting around the skies. These small flying robots are literally taking off, particularly within the commercial sphere. And their largest markets are set to be the construction and real estate industry. I’m particularly enthused by drones’ promise of efficient 2D and 3D mapping methods, as well as thermal and multi-spectral imaging and real-time data for Building Information Modelling. Moreover, drones can zone in on the smaller details; inspecting and detecting cracks and signs of wear and tear in buildings, supported by technology such as thermal imaging cameras. And drones are ideally suited for so-called reality capture, used to measure buildings precisely during construction. In China, drones are even used to fly over building sites at night to measure the progress of a day’s work.

Let’s not forget about the marketing possibilities. Drones can capture aerial photography and videos of properties, helping real estate professionals market an asset and the surrounding area.

High-powered drones and robotics solutions

Ultimately, the potential to use drones in the future is limitless, whether delivering goods, monitoring a riot or more mundane tasks, such as cleaning windows. Take Latvia-based Aerones, for example, which makes high-powered drones and robotics solutions that can assist in the structural cleaning and maintenance of large structures, such as wind turbines and tall buildings.

“We see huge opportunity for the use of our technology for heavy lifting drones for wind turbine maintenance and servicing wind turbine blades,” says Janis Putrams, Aerones CEO. “Industrial climbers currently carry out the work manually but wind turbines are becoming bigger and bigger and manual work just isn’t sufficient anymore.”

Innovative technology can be used to optimise city operations, ease urban traffic flows and boost a city’s liveability factor.

Using drones saves time and money, he adds. “Our system is much faster. Every minute that a wind turbine isn’t working costs the owner money.” There’s also the matter of safety. And the cost of insurance. “If we don’t need to send people up turbines using ropes it all becomes far easier.” Of course, for drones to seriously take off, then the necessary infrastructure needs to be in place. Future real estate challenges include designing and constructing space for vertiports, costing from $2 million to $200 million depending on size, the number of vehicles accommodated and location. There is also the need to build service centres, where air taxis and other transport vehicles can be housed, as well as charging stations and distribution hubs to load and receive goods ferried by drones.

For people movement, issues of noise, air traffic congestion, safety in the air and on the ground (imagine a drone crashing down in a busy city centre), and battery life are all factors that need to be addressed.

Future wide open

Ultimately smart mobility solutions will be a game changer for the real estate industry. By building the right infrastructure, cities can become better connected and efficient in terms of mobility, which will in turn boost real estate prices. Offering more electric car charging stations and more parking spots for car sharing will change the way we plan our cities.

For example, the introduction of more driverless vehicles and air taxis will reduce the need for car parking spots and open up opportunities for other real estate development projects. At the same time, drones and other innovative technologies will offer us huge potential, such as with 3D mapping methods and real-time data for Building Information Modelling. All this will help us build our future.