The transport industry has long been considered conservative. In more than a hundred years of its existence people transplanted into cars with more powerful motors and convenient salon, but the essence did not change fundamentally. Therefore, it is striking, how quickly innovative technologies are penetrating into this industry today. Electric taxi, intelligent services on trip ordering, the development of urban mobility — all these are signs that digital transport transformation has already happened. What happens tomorrow?
The global network is increasingly intertwined with reality. Right now, Internet of Things develops rapidly — when not only people, but also devices are connected to the network. This allows you to control the technique much easier and makes life more comfortable. IoT complements are AI and Big Data technologies that allow real-time analyze of any situations.
New technologies are coming gradually
In order for any technology to take root and find mass users, it takes time. Look at the financial sector: for a long time it seemed that there was nothing more reliable than solid banks with impressive offices led by marble stairs. People visited the bank, filled out documents in advance for the withdrawal of any large amounts and for a long time stood in line for service. Gradually, the Internet and finance intertwined more and more stronger: at first users learned to pay with cards on the Internet, then — to process mobile transactions via easy-to-use apps. And now many of us are clients of banks that do not have a single physical branch. And we are also investing in securities in between viewing the Instagram feed.
Similar changes have occurred in the field of transport. Now calling a taxi with smartphone is a routine procedure for any resident of a large city. But literally 15 years back (already in XXI century) such a scenario looked fantastic. At first such services, when they appeared, were used by advanced users only — and more for reasons of curiosity than convenience. For example, in 2008 in the USA, the Taxi Magic application launched — smartphone users could call taxis at pressing the button without talking to the operator. It never took off.
At the second stage of technology development, the infrastructure necessary for its work began to be formed. At this time, many countries began to pass laws that translated online travel ordering industry from experimental to official. In parallel, the benefits of new platforms began to be understood by users.
The third stage, where we are now, came just at the moment when technology began to be used everywhere. The procedure for calling a taxi from a smartphone has become as convenient as possible, map services and chat rooms were integrated into the application. Thus, if you look around, the digital transformation of transport has already begun, just not everyone paid attention to this.
Further digital development of transport
While some trends have already entered our lives and become familiar, others are only at start of their journey. For example, electric cars. Even in countries that went far ahead in terms of transport electrification, there are not so numerous. Russia is not yet in the top ten, but actively strives for it: for example, according to government plans, by 2030 the share of electric vehicles can reach 15% of the entire car fleet of our country.
As technology develops, you can watch electric cars acquire more and more new advantages over gasoline-powered transport. So, in November 2020 international travel ordering service DiDi together with automaker BYD presented the world’s first electric car, created specifically for working as taxi — D1. This year such electric cars have already begun to appear on the streets of major cities in China.
In 2021, a number of automakers are going to present at least 30 new types of electric vehicles — from passenger to freight ones. With the growing popularity of this mode of transport, one should expect an even greater variety of models. For example, since the electric motor is much more compact than its internal combustion assembly of the same capacity, then the development of electric vehicles can go towards miniaturization. It can be double electric cars or small trucks to deliver orders to the door.
In the second case, another trend may come in handy, which is still just beginning to be introduced — unmanned transport. It is triggered by rapid digitalization of road traffic. By the way, this very digitalization is used by navigator applications to chose the optimal route from point A to Item B.
The next step is just the appearance of unmanned vehicles on the streets. China, Israel and the United States can be considered leaders in this area, but active work is underway in Russia today. The behavior of regulators also proves the transition of unmanned vehicles to a new level of development. Many countries are already developing safety rules for robotic cars. When the legal framework appears and the movement of cars without drivers becomes legal, one should expect their mass exit on public roads. By the way, lately a number of states began actively to develop cargo unmanned transport, its advantages being understandable: it will increase the speed of delivery of goods and provide environment friendly transportation, as well as reduce costs and accident rate.
The third trend that cannot be overlooked is MaaS (Mobility as a service) development. Simply put, in the future transport will become a service, and the main issue of passengers will not be “what to use to get somewhere,” but rather “where to get.” The rest will be provided by a single platform where all modes of transport will be combined: from car sharing, taxis and electric buses to electric scooters and sigways. You will have just to use it via a marketplace.
What you need for a technological breakthrough
Do not forget that the speed of progress depends on many factors. So, for digital transformation the main factors are the support of government initiatives, the presence of rules for the operation of new modes of transport and the timely creation of infrastructure. Each aspect is important. For example, could travel ordering services reach the current development level if there were no electronic payments?
Moreover, I am sure that dynamic development of transport is impossible without a comprehensive support for knowledge-intensive industries by the state and investments in Internet companies of the new generation. Leaders in this direction are China and the United States,; they are hosting now the largest number of electric vehicles and new breakthrough projects. If you look deeper, to achieve progress you must also focus on education and training for young personnel, as well as the formation of legislation aimed at the development of technology and Innovation.
Russian state programs, by the way, are impressive. So, it is planned to allocate about 400 billion rubles for the creation of infrastructure for electric vehicles until 2030. Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Sochi and Kaliningrad are already considering construction of charging stations and organization of free parking for electric vehicles. More in addition, in July 2021, the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation announced the launch of a federal project, within the framework of which it is planned to spend over 800 billion rubles on the development of unmanned vehicles and preparing infrastructure for them until 2030. All this will allow our country to do a serious breakthrough in the development of electric and unmanned vehicles.
DiDi already participated in similar projects in China, and we know firsthand what efforts the infrastructure requires: to build a network of charging stations in several cities, DiDi worked for several years alongside BP, public energy corporations State Grid and Southern China Power Grid, as well as another 500 partners. However the results of this collaboration were impressive — by 2020 more than 60 thousand charging stations were built and launched throughout China.
Also, external factors contribute to technological progress. A vivid example is a pandemic. To mitigate its effects, people turned to new digital services. Residents of cities were forced to take a fresh look at them in conditions when many could not get to work or study, and even to the supermarket. Even those who never used video communication, mastered the Zoom application. Stores developed delivery services in a short time. All this accelerated the pace of digital transformation. And, most importantly, the attitude of people to the new reality has changed. But the more they use digital services — the better are the conditions for their further development.
Digital transformation is ongoing
At the same time, I would not say that some of the areas of digitalization are lagging behind while the others are developing rapidly. The fact is that each company has a strategic development plan, regulators have already identified their priorities, and users have their own expectations. And each technology goes through its life cycle to become mass one and make our lives even more comfortable. Step by step, we are moving towards the future and striving to unite all the capabilities of digital transport of a new generation. This is exactly the task that you need to cope with together, establishing partnerships and associations, in dialogue with authorities and society.
By Daniel Petin, Director of Strategic Projects, DiDi in Russia