Future transport technologies

As part of our initial work for Work Package 4 in the INTEND project, a desk research has been carried out to identify emerging innovative transport technologies and mobility services of high future relevance. Thereby, we deliberately focussed on non-scientific literature (e.g. blogs, magazine articles, etc.), to keep track on the latest ongoing developments in our field of examination. The identified trends and developments were grouped into the four categories vehicle, engine, material and infrastructure/operating technologies.

In the field of vehicle technologies, a major trend emerging in all modes of transport are autonomous driving systems. Several prototypes of unmanned cargo ships and aircrafts are currently in trial operations and indicate a large scale implementation of the technology first in the freight sector. The major breakthrough though is expected in passenger transportation, where besides prototypes of autonomous vehicles several other innovative concepts such as autonomous passenger drones already exist. Although autonomous systems have the potential to disrupt the transport sector to a significant extent in the future, non-technical issues such as lagging legal framework conditions are currently the major obstacles to overcome for this technology.

In the field of engine technologies, one of the major developments that is currently influencing the industry is the electrification of conventional combustion engines. While the early generations of electric vehicles reached ranges of only a few kilometres, today even affordable middle class electric cars reach 300 kilometres and more with a single battery charge. However, there remain several constraints concerning the overall eco-balance of electric vehicles, mainly due to the production process of the lithium-ion batteries. Several experts therefore favour (in terms of a sustainability transformation of the transport system) the fuel cell technology, as hydrogen is more suitable as a storage medium regarding the energy density. But also within this technology, there arise serious doubts concerning the overall eco-balance, as hydrogen has to be produced industrially and therefore has a high primary energy demand. Nevertheless, regarding the ongoing political debates about climate protection and reduction targets in CO2 emissions, both of these technologies are expected to have a strong disruptive potential for the future within the automotive industry.

In the field of material technologies, future developments in the transport sector will probably mainly focus on additive manufacturing methods (3D printing) and lightweight construction, which are mutually related. 3D printing is increasingly being used in various transport related industries, because it enables the design of individual parts with more intricate geometries and thus overall less weight. In addition, 3D printing allows a more cost-efficient production, as storage costs can be saved through printing on-demand. This technological development (as part of the emerging industry 4.0) is expected to have a significant influence on traditional manufacturing processes, resulting in a fundamental reorganisation of the transport industry in the future.

In the field of infrastructure/operating technologies, Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) are one of the major trends emerging, mainly in the course of the megatrend Digitization. ITS-technologies optimize traffic flows and the use of infrastructure by intelligently managing and directing the different traffic elements. The following types of communication can be differentiated within ITS-technologies:

  • Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I)
  • Infrastructure-to-Vehicle (I2V)
  • Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V)

Practical examples for ITS-technologies can be found in car park management, traffic management or navigation applications. Further emerging innovations are Truck Platooning, where several Trucks are connected together through V2V-communication, moving one after the other at a constant distance or collective/swarm intelligence, where specific actions of individuals can evoke intelligent behaviours in the community through communication and networking activities (e.g. search for a parking space).

In a next step, the transport technologies identified will be assessed concerning their potential respectively challenge for supporting a change of the mobility system towards sustainability. Based on this, gaps and blind spots in current transport research activities will be further revealed.

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