This article is excerpted from LA CoMotion and is part of our coverage of the LA CoMotion conference running from November 15, 19, 2017.
Many news cycles are spent talking about autonomous cars, but the truth is, without advancements in other areas such as infrastructure, public transportation, and personal mobility, goods and people cannot be moved in a more efficient manner.
The average speeds with which people and goods move around metropolitan areas today are lower than they were 30 years ago.
Two of the many key converging technological trends that are shaping what future urban and suburban environments will look like are the growth in personal mobility devices and of vehicles for specific tasks.
The United States is moving towards this model of vehicles being created for specific tasks. No longer will a car be used for moving a single passenger or delivering a single box of pizza. A small robot may move on sidewalks to deliver food. Personal mobility devices may help get you from the train station to your office or home. Our historical dependency on cars and trucks to move everything from a carpet to a grocery bag has stretched a system that is already overburdened beyond the limit.
Innovation in lightweight personal mobility has only just begun. The last decade has seen both a worldwide resurgence in bicycling and the introduction of the Onewheel, hoverboards, electric skateboards like the Boosted board, assistive devices for the elderly, and much more. Products are being created for specific demographics (such as the elderly and mobility impaired) and specific-use cases (like delivering goods and roadside food service).
These devices are lightweight, have a small footprint, and are compact enough to take with you on the go. Increased use of bikesharing programs, electric vehicles, and multimodal platforms will become more prevalent. Imagine, for example, a suburban dweller who drives a personal car to the city limits, then takes another form of transportation – that was packaged into their car – to the urban center.
(Editor’s note: The author is chief operating officer at Piaggio Fast Forward, a Boston-based start-up from the Piaggio Group, the company that introduced the Vespa as a lightweight vehicle to navigate war-torn roads after World War II.)
PFF is focused on the challenges of navigating through tight, urban spaces, and envisions an entirely new class of vehicles based around human-centric robotics and original design.
In 2017, PFF launched Gita (pronounced “jee-ta” and meaning “short trip” in Italian), a vehicle that can carry up to 44 pounds of cargo and follows a human indoors and outside. Gita moves the same way as humans and enables them to move more – not less – providing an option to a car when commuting, going to the grocery store or a picnic with your children, and more.
The automobile has been the unspoken hub of urban transportation and design for nearly 100 years. Many of our urban environments – in fact most U.S. transportation infrastructure – has been built for cars. But there is a fundamental shift underway that privileges pedestrians over drivers. Cities have moved to pedestrian-only parts of their city centers – limiting car access and making the streets themselves more attractive to pedestrians by installing better lighting, street signage, paving materials, and more greenery.
So what does the future look like when transportation is centered around people, not cars? How can we design mobility options that enable humans to move more, better, further, faster, more pleasurably, and with a lower environmental impact? These are some of the questions that we’re tackling as we re-imagine what personal mobility looks like.
It’s time to reclaim pedestrianism and create more livable cities – where humans are at the core of transportation options.
Photos courtesy of Piaggio Fast Forward.