The Future of Mobility: A discussion featuring India’s best minds

Posted By: Akhil Almeida|Dated: May 28, 2014

The first part in the series “WORLD CLASS FROM INDIA”. A summary of the Rise Prize Google Hangout on the Future of Mobility

The DNA of the global auto-industry is changing rapidly. Volatile energy prices, escalating greenhouse emissions and rapid urbanization are just some of the challenges facing us today. In this increasingly VUCA world, what impact can technology have on the way we travel? Are there developments on the horizon that could completely redefine the car as we know it? From autonomous vehicles and connected cars to artificial intelligence and alternative fuels—How could Indian innovators and entrepreneurs take a leading role in shaping this future? These were just some of the topics discussed in a riveting discussion on the Future of Mobility. Featured on the panel:

  • Chetan Maini, CEO, Mahindra Revaand India’s leading expert on electric vehicles
  • Akshay Mani, Project Manager, Research and Practice at EMBARQ India
  • Srivatsan Mohan, co-founder, Ridingo
  • Fahad Azad, founder, Robosoft Systems,
  • Sirish Batchu, Head, Infotronics Technology, Mahindra & Mahindra

The session was moderated by noted journalistHormazd Sorabjee(Editor, Autocar India). A summary of the discussion is presented below.

‘World-class from India’ – An Introduction

Hormazd Sorabjee set the context by speaking about the positive trends in science and technology in the past decade coupled with exciting breakouts in innovation and entrepreneurship in India. He then led an insightful discussion with the panelists on the various challenges they were addressing and the opportunities that lay on the horizon.

Redefining Mobility with the 5C’s

Chetan Maini spoke about the new consumer, technology, energy and emission trends that are bringing “a shift in the 200 year old DNA of the auto industry”. Today’s cars have evolved from being mechanically controlled to software driven machine. Modern powertrains are transitioning from carbon-based fuels like petroleum  towards renewable sources like hydrogen and pure electricity. Ownership models are evolving as customers shift from private ownership to a sharing economy where cars can be ‘rented’ out on-demand and without the hassle (and costs) that traditional ownership models bring, He presented his arguments in his 5C Framework for the Future of Mobility

  1. Clean: Car manufacturer will need to go beyond efficient engines, to ensuring that the manufacture, use, and disposal of vehicles across their entire lifecycle remains carbon-neutral. The means, sustainable sourcing and manufacturing processes, zero emission engines, and an eco-friendly disposal for vehicles as they approach their end-of-life.
  2. Convenient: From buying cars online, to innovations in ownership models which allow a car to be shared with multiple ‘owners’, convenience will be a key motivator as consumers opt for simpler, more efficient models of ownership.
  3. Clever: From remote diagnostics to driverless cars, new developments will see a rise in semi-autonomous cars with features like self-parking, and eventually to fully autonomous or ‘driverless’ vehicles.
  4. Cost-effective – Making technology accessible to larger number of consumers, especially in developing nations like India.
  5. Connected: Cars of the future will be capable of multiple levels of ‘connected-ness’. For example
    • Connecting people with their cars (via smartphone)
    • Car-to-Car connections that enable next-level safety measures, like accident avoidance systems.
    • Car-to-Infrastructure connections that allow for better traffic management, while allowing them to connect to the energy-grid for recharging.

    Chetan also spoke about the big opportunity for India, given that most advances in the space have happened in the last 10 years, with no one having a global advantage at this point.

    Transforming the urban mobility architecture:

    Akshay Mani shared the work being done byEMBARQ Indiato promote sustainable urban transport. He focused on a multi-model-integration where public transport would be the core system with all other modes working together with public transport to offer sustainable and socially inclusive urban transport. Three key drivers that will drive change in this area

    • Policy reform – Working with the public sector create policies which address the technological and financial constraints being faced
    • The roles of public and private sectors – While the public-sector invests in big projects such asBRT andMetro, the private-sector is innovating with more frugal solutions such asUber and services asOla cabs
    • Technology – From tech that enables  greater fuel efficiency in transport systems, to integrate different modes of transport such as automatic fare-collection and user information for passengers in the space of public transport;

    The larger goal would be to create a 100% sustainable public transportation system promote the aim of larger sustainable transport.

    The sharing economy:

    Srivatsan Mohan (Ridingo) shared some interesting insights from the perspective of a technology entrepreneur. He spoke about how personal transport has been the trend for the past 100 years in transportation despite being inefficient. The new sharing economy is looking at solving this problem of inefficiency bred by ‘ownership’ where the resource remains idle when not in use. He spoke about the benefits of a sharing model where ‘owners’ use a resource only when they need it and ‘share’ it when they don’t—thus enabling saving from a large capital investments and a more efficient use of assets.

    He spoke about the emerging trends of ride sharing as heralded by companies asLyft, where privately owned cars are being turned into taxis and car sharing trend led byZipcarglobally andZoomcarin India.

    He also spoke about emergent technologies such as intelligent connected transport where cars act as “on-road agents to collect data” to analyse road and traffic conditions. With the help of big-data analyses, these could be used to bring macro level changes that optimise travel routes and signal times. He shared examples of Google’s acquisition ofIsraeli mapping service Waze and Harman’s acquisition ofIsraeli Road Safety App Developer ionRoad

    Mobility – the new ‘necessity’:

    Sirish Batchu of Mahindra drew parallels with how the emergence of mobile phones transformed personal communication. Once considered a relative luxury, especially in developing countries, today they are considered an absolute necessity for the common man, and how the innovations in mobility are set to transform it to the same status of ‘necessity’. He spoke about the difference between the needs of technology among the urban and rural with the former looking for sophistication, while latter demands solutions that will lead to their growth and development.

    Accelerating automation:

    Fahad Azad’s shared how advances in technology are helping companies make giant leaps in automation. Recent experiments by his company, Robosoft Systems, demonstrate how small businesses like pizza parlors could leverage this technology to make home deliveries. He spoke about the potential to use air as a mode of inner-city transport. “What I’ve seen in 10 years has been that the processor size has reduced and the speed has increased tenfold. We’re at a pace that we didn’t even imagine. The drone delivery we experimented with used the same technology that is available in mobile phones.”

    The future

    With multiple avenues for development in technology, policy, and business models, the need to create intelligent systems that can integrate with each other is becoming increasingly important. “We have a big opportunity to look at the current use of road space. 5-7% of the population use cars, but occupy 70% road space,” said Mani.

    While infrastructure will always be a challenge to be met with, the way forward is to work around these challenges and make them opportunities. Hormazd made an interesting point about how the new technologies in the space of ‘car of the future’ are looking at addressing the ‘unholy trinity of mobility’, which includes: road accidents, pollution and congestion.

    Chetan Maini summed up perfectly, focusing on the dramatic changes that the auto industry (growing at a rate of 10-20%) is making and how we need to get to zero emission, be more city-centric and tap into solar energy. “We will be moving away from the jugaad of the past towards smart integration in the future,” he said.

    You can watch the recording of the entire hangout discussion here


     About the Author:

    Akhil Almeida spends 15 hours a week commuting to-and-from work and is keenly interested in developments in mobility.

    He is currently exploring ways to convert his bicycle into full-electric mode.

    He lives in Mumbai and is a brand manager at Mahindra.

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  • mudit chauhan

    After reading the above article.I think its always the present that shapes the future and only the right steps taken in present shapes the future .we are talking high things but we are forgetting the basic things right now.we talk of technology in shaping the future but Mr.Maini has made the most valid point “the road usage “. we talk of convenience but what “convenience”. It should be convenience of mobility and movement .very simple example i live in Delhi /NCR and i take my car everyday for commuting for 40- 80 kms and so does so many people driving alone a car in AC .It is freedom and comfort. The only driverless cars i can think of right now are the cars used in “jurassic park ” for park tour following a track . We have zero emmission but how govt. has supported us in terms of charging stations and subsidy to make this again “convenient ” and “feasible” . The day we will tap these issues before the 5C .i think we will be on our path to transform future. Simplification rather than sophistication should be paid more emphasis on . The way we indians drive even schumacher doesnt drive. we need to make space for these cars .

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