As the world emerges from coronavirus related lockdowns, it's clear that much has changed. The pandemic accelerated the need for innovative tech, and this was no different in the transportation industry.
In a post-COVID-19 world, which of these technologies might we expect to see on our streets, in our skies, and influencing how we choose to travel? Read on to find out.
In this article:
- Autonomous public transport
- Drone deliveries
- Mobility as a Service
- Electric vehicles
1. Autonomous Public Transport
With the COVID-19 virus causing concerns over human interaction, any technology that can limit contact, such as autonomous vehicles, are predicted to rise in popularity.
To date, mostly autonomous vehicles have been used to make deliveries, for instance, transporting medical or food supplies to those in need. However, the argument for the use of autonomous vehicles within public transport is growing. Public transit has been hard-hit by the coronavirus, and many operators have experienced health concerns over the safety of their drivers. The use of self-driving vehicles, or robo-taxis, removes this risk of driver-passenger contamination and instantly improves safety. Autonomous vehicles would also save operators having to install further safety measures such as separation barriers, or operate rear-door boarding policies.
In a post-COVID-19 world, autonomous public transport also provides more extensive societal benefits, including:
- Improved road safety: With human error accounting for 90% of road accidents having no driver significantly minimizes the chance of accidents.
- Lower CO2 emissions: Self-driving cars are programmed to maintain consistent driving speeds and keep a measured distance between vehicles. This can reduce excess braking and re-acceleration.
- Less traffic congestion: With connected technology installed, autonomous vehicles can communicate with one another and travel in more efficient ways, evenly distributing traffic flow or services.
According to Allied Market Research, the robo-taxi market is predicted to increase to over $38 billion by 2030, and the passenger travel section estimated to reach just under $17 billion. With such tremendous growth predicted, it's certainly possible that this technology trend will regularly serve passengers in the coming years.
2. Drone Deliveries
Drones have proved incredibly useful in the fight against coronavirus, having been used to disinfect streets and remind residents of distancing regulations. One area that their use has been particularly noteworthy is that of delivering medical supplies to those in need and remote communities. In Ghana, drones have been used to deliver vital COVID-19 products rapidly to hospitals and health facilities. The enormous success of these and similar drone deliveries has resulted in the World Economic Forum (WEF) focusing on how to accelerate their use into medical supply-chains in Africa.
Post COVID-19, it seems likely that drones' popularity within healthcare will continue. In 2019 the first drone delivery of a human organ was completed in Maryland, US. The drone was used to fly a kidney from its donor 2.8 miles to a critically-ill patient where it was transplanted immediately. With their increased speed and lower costs, the potential for such drone deliveries is vast. In fact, a report by The WEF suggests that in the future, drones could be regularly used for the deliveries of organs, blood, medicines, and medical supplies.
Growth, too, will possibly be seen in the consumer drone delivery market. The pandemic has already witnessed deliveries of eCommerce goods to remote parts of China. In the US, the Civil Aviation Ministry has granted exemptions to operate drones on an experimental basis, which opens the way for consumer deliveries long term. With drone deliveries of consumer goods helping to extend contact-free deliveries and enabling products to be moved with relatively low cost at higher speeds, it seems that this could be a transport trend that is increasingly used.
3. Mobility as a Service (MaaS)
Improved air quality and reduced pollution were witnessed in many cities around the world during the pandemic, and already, many city officials have made it clear that they want these positive changes to remain. With that in mind, one possible transport tech trend that may emerge stronger in a post-COVID-19 world is that of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS).
Mobility-as-a-Service can be defined as the shift away from the use and ownership of private vehicles to that of using shared and on-demand mobility methods of transportation. From ride-hailing to public transit and shared bikes, we can expect to see urban transportation rely on a more integrated ecosystem and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) to keep evolving towards multimodal mobility.
We can already see that some cities are changing their infrastructure to encourage the use of micromobility (shared bikes and scooters), allowing short distances to be traveled more conveniently. These kinds of initiatives should encourage people to use their private cars less, in favor of more sustainable transportation options - most probably using a combination of them. In terms of market growth, MaaS is rapidly growing. A recent report by Juniper Research suggests that although likely be stagnant in 2020, by 2027, the market is expected to grow to exceed $52 billion (up from $405 million in 2020).
More generally, the pandemic has created new needs in the field of smart transportation. For example, companies have started to seek alternatives to public transport for their employees to get to work, such as smart shuttles. Non-Emergency Medical Transportation providers dealing with increased demand have had to optimize efficiency with smarter solutions, and the same can be said for delivery services. Looking to the future, we can expect to see smart transportation technology advance quickly to support the MaaS evolution.
4. Electric Vehicles (EVs)
A surge in the popularity of electric vehicles is another potential trend that might be seen in a post-COVID-19 world.
EVs are responsible for substantially fewer emissions over their lifetime than vehicles running on fossil fuels (regardless of the source that generates the electricity.) And as already mentioned, with a large amount of attention given to the environmental benefits of the pandemic, many want to keep this momentum going. In fact, according to a study by Venson Automotive Solutions, a growing number of consumers are actively considering switching to electric vehicles due to the improved air conditions witnessed during the pandemic.
EVs offer consumers other benefits, including less operational and maintenance costs, which may also play a factor in an increase in the global uptake of these vehicles.
Post pandemic, it will take time for life to return to what it was pre-outbreak. For the transportation industry, this will affect the services run, the technology used, and how people choose to travel. For instance, public transit ridership levels are unlikely to return immediately, and appropriate measures will need to be introduced to regain passenger trust.
In terms of innovation, the pandemic forced the transportation industry to think creatively and to do things differently. In a post-COVID-19 world, with issues such as pollution and the need for contactless high on the agenda, it can be expected that technologies will continue to develop to overcome these challenges.