Navigant Research Blog

Sustainable Transportation and Smart Cities Working Hand in Hand

— June 26, 2018

On June 5, the German and American Chambers of Commerce, supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, hosted the Smart Cities and Sustainable Transportation Systems Transatlantic Business Conference in Denver, Colorado. The conference brought together German urban transportation companies and was part of a larger trade mission of German energy efficiency innovators that also visited Chicago. The Denver metro area is of interest to the Chambers of Commerce because of an increase in transportation-related investment since Denver was named a finalist in the 2015 Smart Cities Challenge. Since the challenge, Denver and the state of Colorado have committed to pursuing EV production, charging infrastructure expansion, and automated vehicle use, making it an attractive location for German urban transportation businesses.

Denver and Dortmund

The interest from German companies in US smart city and transportation systems stems from Germany’s own experience and success with smart city projects. The country, with its 4 million miles of road network, stands out as leader in electric transportation and smart city initiatives. The city of Dortmund is currently implementing smart city programs which includes targeting air quality issues, e-mobility concepts, pedestrian accessibility, cycling and traffic safety, and mobility management projects. Dr. Jan Fritz Rettberg of TU Dortmund University discussed the project in detail on June 5, including the installation of an EV charging center in Dortmund powered by solar PV as a way to reduce air pollution and increase e-mobility. Dr. Rettberg also noted that the smart city initiative has several projects under planning such as developing new and priority bike routes, connecting transport modes, electrifying taxis, and reducing public transport rates.

Denver Smart Transportation Projects

Transportation Energy Lead for the City and County of Denver, Mike Salisbury, discussed the sustainable transportation projects Denver is pursuing in order to reach a greenhouse gas reduction of 80% by 2050. Denver’s Smart City Program focuses on accessible mobility, transportation electrification, and intelligent vehicles and transportation systems. As part of the intelligent transportation systems, the Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment Program (ATCMTD) is a federal grant aimed at deploying connected freight and fleet vehicles. The ATCMTD Program will implement technologies allowing vehicles to communicate with one another to increase safety and reduce costs for participating fleets. The transportation innovation in Denver and the state of Colorado as a whole makes Denver a prime target for solution-oriented smart city companies to implement their products.

Smart City Companies Expanding Their Markets

As part of the trade commission, companies that have provided solutions for German smart cities programs were present at the conference, and hopeful of expanding into the US smart city market. Colibri Energy GmbH, DataCollect Traffic Systems, eluminocity, ICE Gateway GmbH, MENTZ, and RTB showcased their smart city technologies and products including traffic light equipment, EV charging infrastructure, and traffic management systems.

Overall, at the conference, there was optimism that German and US companies would continue to work together in the future to promote sustainable transportation within the broader smart city sphere. The continued efforts of the German American Chambers of Commerce and other similar organizations point toward exciting collaboration possibilities.


Automotive Sector and Smart Cities Join IoT and 5G Surge

— June 26, 2018

In a recent blog, I noted the gathering momentum for industrial IoT (IIoT) solutions. A similar IoT solution and connectivity trend is emerging in the automotive sector, among smart cities, in the buzzy 5G telecom world, and even in military circles. Of course, 5G is expected to play a role in the utility sector, too (see Navigant Research’s 5G and the Internet of Energy report). For stakeholders, 5G and IoT are worth paying attention; underneath the hype, important connectivity solutions are evolving and important strategic decisions are at stake.

Which Technologies Are Connecting Cars?

Among automakers, competing technologies vie for dominance in how connected cars will communicate with other vehicles and supporting systems. Much of the focus has been on 5G, which Ford, BMW, and other automakers support. Toyota favors dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), which is Wi-Fi-based. GM supports DSRC as well, and the US government has invested millions of dollars in the technology.

From a US perspective, 5G appears to have the upper hand in connected cars, especially as wireless carriers invest in upgrades to existing 4G systems. However, in other countries the picture looks slightly different. Volkswagen is supporting 5G for its Audi brand in the US and China, but in Europe the company is hedging its bets and will deploy a version of DSRC on VW-branded cars in Europe beginning next year. So, the technology choice remains unsettled, as noted by the numerous pilots or deployments in a blog by OnBoard Security’s Gene Carter. (For details about automotive communications, see Navigant Research’s Connected Vehicles report).

What about Smart Cities?

Among cities, 5G is gaining ground, too (see Smart City Communication Networks Market Overview for details). Sacramento, for instance, is all in for 5G and is on track to become a model for other cities to follow with projects that take advantage of 5G’s super high speeds, high capacity, and low latency. In Spain, the situation is similar to Sacramento. Wireless carrier Telefónica is deploying 5G in two cities that will become living laboratories. Over the next 3 years, 5G will be tested in automated driving scenarios in Segovia and Talavera de la Reina. The carrier expects to gain new insights from its 5G trials in these two cities, and later will deploy valuable features across its nationwide network.

The Military Is Also Interested in IoT

The military sector also has eyes on 5G and IoT. The US Air Force Academy, for instance, has a new 5-year R&D deal with AT&T that calls for joint work on IoT, cybersecurity, 5G, Smart Base solutions, software-defined networking, and other emerging technologies. The effort is part of the Air Force’s CyberWorx design center, a public-private endeavor to solve operational problems.

Don’t Forget the Telecoms

Likewise, there is new confidence from telecom equipment giant Ericsson related to IoT. The company has nearly doubled its forecast for the number of IoT connections in the coming years. Ericsson expects 3.5 billion IoT cellular connections by 2023, which is up from its November 2017 forecast of 1.8 billion. The change is due to faster-than-expected market growth in recent months. The company says both IoT and 5G promise new capabilities and use cases that will affect not only consumers, but many industries, such as utilities, automotive, and manufacturing, that are undergoing digital transformations.

Yes, 5G and IoT technologies still carry hype baggage. But trials, testing, and deployments are moving ahead. And the markets will unfold quicker than many people imagine.


Toronto Is Getting Its Master’s Degree in Cities

— May 29, 2018

Toronto is going back to school. In March, the University of Toronto (U of T) approved its newest discipline, the School of Cities—which is aimed at addressing complex urban challenges such as traffic congestion and affordable housing. The program is one of the first of its kind in the world, and it will serve as a hub for innovative interdisciplinary urban research, education, and engagement. More than 220 faculty members at U of T conduct urban-focused research, representing over 40 academic departments such as engineering, architecture, urban planning, and public health.

Headlined by speakers such as Dan Doctoroff, CEO of Sidewalk Labs (an Alphabet company), U of T’s School of Cities program hosted an inaugural session on May 15 called Toronto: Towards a Smart and Inclusive City-Region. The session brought together urban thought leaders, policymakers, planners, business leaders, and entrepreneurs to exchange ideas on ways to meet the challenges of city building while ensuring that smart cities are also inclusive cities.

Inclusivity a Major Focus

Several speakers at the session noted how strong city leadership and vision are crucial to ensuring that smart city development reflects the socioeconomic conditions of the city. Sidewalk Labs touted its deep commitment to inclusive cities, referencing its spinoff company Cityblock Health—which aims to help low income Americans access health services. The company also outlined how automated vehicles (AVs) tie into its broader vision for inclusivity. Sidewalk Labs is targeting a 40%-50% reduction in annual family income expenditure on vehicles by offering shared AV services—providing citizens with increased opportunity to access transportation. More public and open space would also be enabled through AVs, with a significant reduction of land needed for parking.

An Ambitious Project

Sidewalk Labs’ ambitious project in Toronto has brought considerable attention and excitement to the city, as well as skepticism. Citizen concerns around data, privacy, and business models have been well documented. Doctoroff shared more details on how data will likely be used, Sidewalk Labs’ support for open data, and its commitment to data security. Information was also provided on the company’s projected business model and areas where it expects to make a return on its investment:

  • Property: Real estate value in Quayside is expected to increase over time.
  • Technology: The technology it develops is expected to scale to the larger Toronto area and other cities in Canada and around the world.
  • Next-generation infrastructure: Sidewalk Labs will potentially arrange and manage next-generation infrastructure services.

A Welcome Development, but Some Concerns

U of T’s new School of Cities is a welcome development that helps fills a void in contemporary academia. Cutting-edge research and collaboration will be needed to help solve the world’s most complex urban issues. Look for more universities to follow suit with similar programs in the coming years.

Sidewalk Labs utilized U of T’s inaugural session to continue its concerted effort to address data and privacy concerns. The company recently released its Responsible Data Use Policy Framework, which builds on Canadian privacy laws and recent recommendations by national and provincial Canadian privacy regulators. To win the support of Torontonians, Sidewalk Labs will need to continue to demonstrate and more effectively communicate to citizens that data from the project will be anonymized, open, secure, and not used for advertising.


How Hyperloops and Other Futuristic Innovations Could Affect Urban Mobility

— May 15, 2018

With limited space on urban streets, cities will likely need to use new technology innovations to make their transportation systems more 3D. This would include the increased utilization of elevated tracks, higher usage of tunneling (beyond traditional metro systems), and flying vehicles. Hyperloops, underground automated pods, and air taxis offer both these possibilities and the potential to transform traditional transportation markets.


Hyperloops hold significant potential to become the first new mode of public transport in over 100 years, promising drastically shortened intercity travel times, lower costs, and decreased negative environmental impacts. The technology uses electromagnetic propulsion to transport passengers in a capsule through a vacuum tube at speeds of up to 1,200 km/h (745 mph).

Hypothetically, hyperloop technology could transform commuting and even affect real estate prices by enabling workers to live hundreds of miles away from their offices. Nevertheless, Navigant Research does not expect the currently experimental technology to approach mainstream adoption over the next 10 years. The fastest speed achieved by hyperloop pilots thus far is 387 km/h (240 mph), far off from the 1,200 km/h (745 mph) speed needed to transport passengers in the short travel times that are claimed as possible. Additionally, a myriad of technological, safety, regulatory, and business model challenges will have to be overcome for hyperloops to become a viable mass-transport technology option.

In an interesting development, Richard Branson’s Virgin Group announced an investment in Hyperloop One in late 2017 and created a new company called Virgin Hyperloop One. The strategic partnership with Virgin adds experience and credibility to the hyperloop industry. Virgin is well-known as a leading innovator in the transportation industry—primarily in the airline, cruise ship, rail, and commercial space travel industries.

Underground Automated Pods

Elon Musk’s Boring Company is attempting to develop a high speed underground public transport system using automated pods. The pods would travel on electric skates, reaching speeds of 125-150 mph and carrying between 8 and 16 passengers. The Boring Company is proposing a Washington, DC-to-Baltimore Loop, which would involve the construction of parallel, twin underground tunnels (which would eventually extend to New York City).

There are several benefits of using underground tunnels and pods in the mobility context, including the lack of weather impacts and the near unlimited number of layers of tunnels that could be built. However, tunnels are expensive to dig and projects have cost as much as $1 billion per mile. The Boring Company aims to reduce this cost by a factor of 10, which is a necessary first step if the company is to be successful.

Air Taxis

Several companies and cities are aiming to launch flying taxi services within the next 10 years (e.g., Volocopter, Kitty Hawk, and Uber).There are a number of concerns with flying taxis, including but not limited to issues related to poor weather conditions, safety, affordability, technological maturity, and the need to attain regulatory approvals from aviation regulators. It is also important to note that most predictions about the near-term deployment of flying cars have been wildly incorrect thus far. Flying taxi services will likely have a place in the future of urban mobility, though Navigant Research expects unmanned flying vehicles be used for hauling commercial goods in the near-term as that is far simpler than transporting commuters.

Too Early to Tell

Due to continued urbanization, a variety of transformative technologies are needed both to improve the current state of mobility in cities and to manage the influx of additional populations. Hyperloops, underground automated pods, and air taxis are three highly experimental, futuristic innovations that have the potential to deliver on these lofty goals. The progression toward commercial deployment over the next 10 years will provide a much clearer picture around the viability (or lack thereof) for these innovative solutions.


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