Transportation & MobilityApril 17, 2024

What will you be driving in 20 years?

In this mobility ecosystem set 20 years in the future, the act of driving becomes an immersive odyssey of sights, sounds and sensations.
Avatar Tony Velocci

Embark on a journey into the future, where the driving experience transcends the ordinary and ventures into the extraordinary.

As you settle into the driver’s seat of your autonomous vehicle, the interior comes alive with a soft, ambient glow that adapts to your mood and preferences. The panoramic windshield transforms into a high-definition display, seamlessly blending the boundaries between the digital and physical worlds. Augmented reality overlays provide real-time information, from navigation prompts to dynamic road conditions, enhancing your connection with the evolving urban landscape.

Outside, LED-lined roads and responsive traffic signals communicate seamlessly with your vehicle. Lanes shimmer with adaptive colors, guiding you effortlessly through intersections. The vehicle’s AI (artificial intelligence) assistant engages in natural conversations, providing useful insights, and road trips become immersive experiences. As you approach scenic vistas or historical landmarks, your vehicle triggers informative holographic displays, turning every drive into a captivating education excursion.

Safety is paramount, with the vehicle’s intelligent sensors anticipating potential hazards and seamlessly communicating with other vehicles. As your journey comes to an end, the vehicle gracefully parks itself in designated spaces adorned with interactive charging stations. In the age of the mobility ecosystem, driving is no longer a mundane task but an orchestrated symphony of technologies, comfort and entertainment.

If this sound too futuristic to grasp, think again. Today, mobility is at a major inflection point, with data-enabled technologies on a path to replace the current vehicle-centric system with a radically more efficient, customer-centric mobility ecosystem

For more than a century, what is commonly understood as the car industry has operated as siloed components of what transportation has come to mean. All of these components will be blended into an interconnected world that will allow consumers to transition seamlessly between public, private, scheduled and on-demand modes of transport.

Many of its capabilities already exist but will be vastly expanded to allow the driving experience to become far more immersive, interactive and even customized. For example, there could be an on-demand digital mobility assistant that interfaces directly with a motorist to execute trip planning, adjust routes to allow for traffic and other disruptions, and handle bridge, tunnel and highway tolls.

More broadly, the mobility ecosystem encompasses new mobility services, like access to shared vehicles on a short-term basis; autonomous vehicles; smart infrastructure, such as integration of technology into roads; electric and sustainable transportation; and collaboration and partnerships to create a more efficient and integrated mobility system.

In addition, it includes regulatory frameworks that shape and govern the mobility ecosystem; and mobility-as-a-service (MaaS), the integration of various transportation services into a unified, user-friendly platform allowing users to plan, book and pay for multiple modes of transportation seamlessly.

In one of the most recent initiatives aimed at applying bold thinking to mobility and other industries, six technology companies formed an open innovation ecosystem called Software République by pooling their expertise in AI, big data, connectivity, cybersecurity and digital twins. One of their goals: develop advanced mobility systems. Multi-industry partners include Eviden, Dassault Systèmes, JCDecaux, Orange, Renault Group, STMicroelectronics and Thales.

McKinsey refers to the coming transformation as mobility’s second great inflection point. “It has the potential to be as profound as the one that put horses to pasture and revolutionized industries and societies worldwide,” according to the McKinsey principals.

Public and private-sector players work together

In order for the mobility ecosystem to realize its full consumer-centric potential, however, industry players across all specialized sectors of transport will need to work closely together. The goal will be to create digital sub-ecosystems or networks that provide interconnected products, services or solutions that deliver a completely integrated customer experience.

“We’re already seeing partnerships between telecommunications providers and automotive OEMs and mobility-management services,” according to Scott Corwin, chief strategic and commercialization officer in Deloitte Consulting’s U.S. Sustainability Practice.

Other cross-sector partnerships are bound to follow, such as the bundling of insurance and servicing into a flexible vehicle subscription to improve customer convenience. Another example is teaming home energy with roaming electric vehicle charging. 

Fueling the evolution of the mobility ecosystem, of course, are progressively more advanced digital technologies. But the transformation currently under way isn’t about technology for technology’s sake. Rather, it’s about significantly enhancing the mobility experience in general and improving safety.

For example, advanced driver assistance and the integration of autonomous driving technology are expected to reduce human error. Similarly, real-time data exchange between vehicles and infrastructure are expected to improve both overall traffic management and early warning of potential road hazards.

Mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) platforms already offer integrated solutions for planning and booking different transportation modes, making travel more convenient, with more user-friendly solutions expected in the near term. In addition, advanced traffic management systems, enabled by smart infrastructure and data analytics, can optimize traffic flow, reduce congestion and minimize travel time. Standardized practices and regulations within the mobility ecosystem can also create a more predictable and regulated environment, fostering trust among users.

While the mobility ecosystem basically is still in its infancy, one of its most defining characteristics is the critical—and expanding— role of software. Consider, for example, that many of the most modern vehicles on the road today are equipped with four times as many lines of software code as America’s most advanced fighter aircraft. As the mobility ecosystem evolves, chances are the different modes of transport will become even more software-intensive in response to consumers’ preferences and desire for customization.

Software-over-the-air (SOTA) technologies offer them a more convenient and time-saving way to have problems fixed, make modifications, and improve applications and user interfaces. In the past, updates to a vehicle’s software required recalling affected vehicles to service centers where manual updates were performed—an expensive, time-consuming and inconvenient process. As a result, a significant number of vehicles didn’t always receive critical updates because owners simply ignored them. SOTA is changing all of this, with owners updating their vehicles from the comfort of their own homes, making the process relatively stress-free. Through hassle-free, do-it-yourself updates, consumers can help ensure their vehicle’s software remains secure, runs well and can support new features.

All car makers are racing to embrace SOTA, and as vehicles become increasingly software-dependent SOTA will become ubiquitous. Some original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of uber-connected vehicles have been employing SOTA for at least a few years but implementations will accelerate in coming years, according to industry observers. Much will depend on how quickly newer generations of enabling technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI) and autonomy, can be designed into what essentially are becoming mobile digital information platforms. 

SOTA-enabled autonomous vehicles (AVs) also are coming to fruition sooner than many people expected—in trucking.

For example, Kroger is among the first companies to employ driverless tractor-trailer trucks to fulfill e-commerce orders as part of a nationwide e-commerce fulfillment network.

Shippers’ willingness to entrust their cargo and logistics networks—not to mention the safety of fellow motorists—to autonomous technology speaks volumes about their confidence in the market for self-driving mobility ecosystems, Kodiak Robotics CEO Don Burnette said. Kodiak Robotics is a California company that designs and builds autonomous ground transportation vehicles.

In the vanguard of the automotive industry’s transformation and expansion of mobility ecosystems is Tesla, which launched its Model S nearly a decade ago. It was equipped with onboard Wi-Fi and an electronic architecture allowing every line of code to be changed over time. Since then, OEMs around the world have been playing catch-up.

Standardizing mobility ecosystems around SOTA will be no simple matter since OEMs will need to redesign end-to-end processes for releasing software updates. They’re currently wrestling with the most efficient way to identify and prioritize those updates, according to BearingPoint, a management and technology consulting firm. They’re also developing a more secure and reliable software-delivery infrastructure built on cloud-based servers.

Just as crucial to the success of SOTA will be optimizing the customer experience. Factory-authorized dealers traditionally have performed customer-facing tasks. In a SOTA-oriented world, dealers working in partnership with OEMs will need to develop new competencies aligned with customer preferences. Example: how and when to prioritize software updates, as well as how to deliver them via reliable and user-friendly, cloud-based servers with adequate cyber security controls, noted BearingPoint.

At the heart of the mobility-ecosystem transformation is a complex interplay between technological, economic and regulatory forces. For instance, at the end of 2023 Canada mandated that by the end of 2035, all passenger cars, SUVs, crossovers and light trucks sold must be zero-emission vehicles.

Outside of North America and Western Europe, the revolution in mobility ecosystems is expected to also proliferate in China, India and Latin America but at a slower pace, according to McKinsey & Co. experts. China may be an exception in terms of the rate, which could be quite rapid. Not only is the second most populous country on track to become the world’s biggest producer of electric vehicles in the near term but there is a strong and growing cultural predisposition to connectivity and shared mobility there. In addition, the government is seeking to stimulate economic growth, with a strong emphasis on technology.

Globally, the evolution of mobility ecosystems will be driven by the same forces as in the West: consumer preferences; providers of power, fuel and charging infrastructure; and governments catalyzing the emergency and spread of new mobility ecosystems, according to mobility and transportation experts at Deloitte Consulting.

While new technologies and regulations will account for many shifts in the automotive landscape, customers will be in the driver’s seat. Their preference for more convenient and sustainable mobility choices is equally if not more important, and manufacturers would be well advised to respond accordingly, according to BearingPoint.

In a recent consumer survey, the McKinsey Center for Future Mobility zeroed in on four disruptive trends that will shape the future of mobility ecosystems and their possible impact: connectivity, shared mobility, autonomous driving, electrification and sustainability—all part of the broader transformation of the automotive industry as it exists today. Among the survey’s findings:

  • Passenger vehicles in Europe and North America will have a progressively increased amount of advanced automation features, which will make them much more software-dependent, highly automated and capable of self-driving on highways.
  • Nearly half of respondents expressed an openness to replacing their private vehicles with other modes of transportation in the coming decade.
  • Almost a third of respondents plan to increase their use of micro-mobility or shared mobility over the next decade.
  • By 2035, the share of passenger miles traveled (PMT) in private cars will drop by about 15%. During the same period, new modes of travel that are now barely measurable, such as autonomous robo shuttles, will increase their PMT from 1% in 2023 to 8%.

The AI effect on mobility

No digital technology will play a bigger role in advancing the development of autonomous mobility, in particular, than artificial intelligence. It is the most important and sophisticated component of self-driving vehicles.

AI is a broad term that refers to various digital tools trained to perform a wide range of complex tasks that might have previously required input from an actual person. What they have in common is their ability to rapidly process and find connections among vast amounts of disparate data, which makes AI potentially revolutionary when it comes to such tasks as modeling and simulation. Unlike traditional computer programs, AI tools can continue learning over time as new data is available or as the systems receive new feedback about the quality of their output.

Many of the operations that autonomous mobility ecosystems have to perform are based on sensor information and AI algorithms. These vehicles need to collect data, plan their path of travel and execute their movements. What a human driver would consider simple driving tasks requires non-traditional programming approaches and relies on machine learning techniques, a subset of AI.

Many of these tasks present significant hurdles in the quest for safe and reliable autonomous driving—and they aren’t quick fixes. For example, many AI algorithms are computationally intensive and are therefore hard to use with Central Processing Units (CPUs) that have memory and speed restrictions.

“As AI advances technologically, we will get closer to having autonomous transportation in which consumers can have confidence,” Kevin Czinger, CEO of Divergent Technologies, an advanced manufacturing consultancy, said. “Until then, we have to cope with many hours of development and testing.”

Morgan Stanley Managing Director Adam Jonas, who leads Global Auto and Shared Mobility Research, sees the first serious application of [fully autonomous] transport to be in the form of public-private partnerships, such as a municipality and a privately-run transportation provider. “This is more likely to take place at a hyper-localized level of a city center,” he said.

In the meantime, there are numerous other areas where technology innovators are applying AI to improve how consumers experience mobility ecosystems. For example, Mercedes-Benz recently rolled out an optional beta program in the U.S. for vehicles equipped with its MBUX infotainment system. The company is integrating ChatGPT through Microsoft Azure OpenAI service to allow drivers to engage the chatbot in a variety of conversations—such as answering complex questions without having to look at a computer screen or use any personal device.

A new way to build motor vehicles

To deliver whatever customer preferences emerge as part of the automotive industry’s transformation, carmakers will need to fundamentally change the way they design and build vehicles, and some OEMs are taking steps to do just that.

For example, Tesla CEO Elon Musk is steering the company towards eventually die-casting entire vehicle underbodies in a single, dimensionally perfect piece to eliminate hundreds of parts and multiple production steps. Such an approach to manufacturing would be a huge savings in production time and costs, not to mention a boon to vehicle affordability, according to Divergent Technologies, an advanced manufacturing consultancy in Torrance, Calif.

Divergent CEO Czinger foresees OEMs “de-materializing” how vehicles are made—meaning consuming dramatically less material and energy—by “democratizing production in numerous 3D printing micro-factories around the world.

To accelerate progress across multiple fronts of the mobility-ecosystem transformation—including EVs, driverless vehicles, radically new designs, perfecting SOTA—the use of digital tools throughout a product’s lifecycle, starting from concept, will be imperative, according to Czinger.

“It may be the only way the industry can rapidly develop high-quality products that are both affordable and meet consumer preferences,” he said.

Software République’s pooled expertise will play an important role in creating future mobility solutions

Among Software République’s achievements is the creation of an electric concept aptly named H1st, based on the premise that humans were the primary consideration in the collaborative endeavor.

As Software République’s vision for mobility ecosystems of the future, H1st encompasses the actual physical vehicle and its virtual twin to model, visualize and simulate various use cases that consumers could experience in the real world. They interact with each other in their real or virtual environment, including other vehicles and mobility systems, alternate transport options, smart-road infrastructure, connected car parks and charging stations.

Software Republique’s H1st concept vehicle

H1st features more than 20 innovative technologies. These include an all-new secure biometric access control system, predictive hazard alerts, optimized range and recharging, and continuous monitoring of driver and vehicle health. Onboard technologies can even locate, reserve and pay for parking or EV recharging space remotely.

“The entire project has been an exercise in collective intelligence, and it’s helping build a future we can all trust as we transition to safe and sustainable mobility of the future,” said Software République’s Philippe Keryer, executive vice president of strategy, research and technology.

Since its inception, the motor vehicle has been a wellspring of technological, economic and social innovation, doing as much as any human invention to change how people live. While there are many unknowns about how transport will evolve, this much is certain: The dramatic changes consumers will experience in coming years will be nothing short of astonishing as safer, greener, more efficient, more convenient and more affordable choices emerge from the mobility ecosystem.

Stay up to date

Receive monthly updates on content you won’t want to miss


Register here to receive a monthly update on our newest content.