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Do automated cars dream of electric sharing?

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Authors: George Kamiya, Kate Palmer and Jacob Teter

The future of self-driving cars remains highly uncertain. But visions of fully autonomous vehicles have captured the public imagination, with academics, technologists, and cultural commentators speculating on what a self-driving future might mean.

Building on our first comprehensive report on Digitalization & Energy, the IEA is setting out to explore the important and intriguing possibilities of emerging mobility technologies and services – defined here as automation, sharing, and electrification. Working at the intersection of energy, transport, and digital technologies, the IEA aims to assess how automation could impact long-term energy and emission trends and to advise on policies that could help to steer technology and business developments toward achieving environmental, energy, and other social goals.

To inform our modelling and policy analysis, we are tapping into expertise in multiple realms, consulting and exchanging ideas with researchers, technologists, legal experts, designers, investors, visionaries, and policy makers. The IEA recently convened a two-day workshop to bring together international experts and decision-makers from across these communities. This commentary summarises the lively debate and discussion at the workshop, and previews some of the key questions we will address in the coming months.

How and when will robots hit the road?

The future of highly automated and connected vehicles is decidedly uncertain; questions remain around technologies, regulations, and public acceptance. Experts predict a range of possible development and deployment pathways.

One possible trajectory continues down the long road of incremental progress. Technologies are first introduced in the luxury vehicle market, and then gradually diffuse down to other segments, bringing greater comfort and convenience, performance, and safety. Blind spot monitors, lane keeping, and collision warning and avoidance follow the route of adaptive cruise control to become standard features in more and more new cars.

Or we could leap directly to fully autonomous vehicles (AVs), deploying them in limited contexts and expanding the range and conditions of their use. Given the major challenge of putting human and robot-driven vehicles on a single road network, many see the best way forward to be designing separate “geofenced” spaces, effectively cordoned off roadways, for self-driving cars.

The most likely early adopters of AVs are commercial applications, particularly where labour costs are high or where automation could enable higher vehicle utilisation (such as trucks, buses, taxis and ride hailing). High-cost automated driving technologies also represent a lower proportional cost on larger, more expensive vehicles like buses and heavy trucks. Testing and trials in a variety of use cases are well underway, with over sixty cities hosting AV tests or committing to doing so in the near future.

Differing consumer preferences and demographics, regulatory regimes, and built environments will likely drive differences in adoption among regions. For instance, the aging population in Japan is a driver of its ambitious plans for AV deployment. High consumer acceptance and a favourable regulatory environment in Singapore could mean they will be among the first to deploy AVs widely. Some of these regional differences are already evident in the differences in how ride-hailing services are used in cities and suburbs and among countries. For instance, short-distance ride-hailing in the U.S. versus long-distance carpooling in Western Europe versus app-based motorcycle taxis in Indonesia. Finland is looking to integrate ride-hailing services into a multimodal Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) ecosystem.

Heaven, hell, or something in between

The consequences of automation on global energy demand and emissions are highly uncertain, depending on the combined effect of changes in consumer behaviour, policy intervention, technological progress and vehicle technology. Analyses of a range of scenarios in the U.S. context show a wide range of possible outcomes. For example, under a best-case scenario of improved efficiency through automation and ride-sharing, road transport energy use could halve compared with current levels. Conversely, if efficiency improvements do not materialise and rebound effects from automation result in substantially more travel, energy use could more than double.

In the rosiest of model scenarios, citizen-agents dutifully forgo private car ownership and instead use a mix of driverless shuttle services, shared bikes and e-scooters to connect to high quality rapid transit. On-street parking is eliminated, freeing up space for bikes, pedestrians, commerce, and green space. Trip costs and commute times drop. More universal and affordable mobility enhance equality of opportunity and access to jobs and services.

In the dystopian reading, AVs reduce driver stress and allow for more productive use of travel time, making private car travel more attractive. Living further outside city centres becomes more attractive and property values adjust accordingly, exacerbating sprawl. New demand from non-drivers (such as children and the elderly) contribute to greater overall travel. Costs for taxi services fall dramatically, encouraging a shift from public transit to low-occupancy AVs. Road freight also becomes much cheaper, encouraging more goods shipment. All these factors encourage more road travel activity and energy demand.

Sharing, electrification, and multi-modal integration

So how might we steer these new developments away from a 21st century reboot of car-centric cityscapes, and away from the noise, congestion and tailpipe emissions that are plaguing cities today?

Perhaps by focusing on the destination – a safe and comfortable city with many clean and convenient ways to get around – some design principles can be formulated. Policy and planning principles that focus on how sharing, electrification, and automation contribute to a multi-modal mobility ecosystem can help get us where we want to go.

Sharing of vehicles and rides could be key to making the most of scarce road space and dampening potential rebound effects in travel activity. Pricing signals based on footprint or passenger throughput can incentivise active modes, pooled rides, and transit. On the most heavily trafficked routes, supply-side measures, like converting lanes into dedicated priority bus networks, could help deploy automation sooner.

Electrification could help to reduce the energy use and emissions impacts of AVs. With high utilisation rates, commercial fleets – the most likely early adopters of AVs – will favour powertrains with low operational costs and higher efficiencies such as EVs. Automated driving technologies may be easier to implement in EVs due to the greater number of drive-by-wire components. While the outlook for electrification of AVs seems promising, commercial services will demand greater utilisation and range, requiring larger and more expensive battery packs or more frequent recharging. On-board computers and electronics may draw significant power, reducing the range of an electric AV. Ensuring suitability and synergies between automation and electrification requires a more deliberate design of EV-related policies and charging infrastructure buildout to prepare for an automated and shared future.

Early evidence from several major U.S. cities, including Boston and New York, show that ride-hailing services may be adding to congestion and substituting for public transit. While low-cost autonomous taxis could accelerate this trend and displace public transit, the right policies could instead ensure that they serve as first- and last-mile feeders to transit services and as substitutes to single occupancy vehicles. If cities and countries can compel corporate providers of mobility services to disclose certain key data, urban and transport planners may be able to better target infrastructure investments and services to ensure more efficient and equitable access.

Policies for a sustainable and equitable mobility future

Governments at all levels can play a critical role in enabling emerging mobility technologies and ensuring that they help to solve (rather than exacerbate) existing challenges. Crucially, efforts to limit the use of single-occupancy vehicles must be complemented with policies to encourage and promote sharing, interoperability, and integration across different modes and mobility service providers.

At the national level, regulations should seek to support rather than impede, but also steer AV development, while ensuring safety of road users and pedestrians. National strategy and policy can empower cities to adopt smarter mobility practices across all transport modes. Clear policy intent and implementation at this level can have long-term ripple effects, like shaping more efficient car designs of the future.

Adoption of AVs has the potential to make cities more sustainable, inclusive, prosperous, and resilient. Fair user fees across all modes can encourage more efficient use of our city streets. So far, more than 100 cities and companies have committed to supporting this idea through the Shared Mobility Principles for Liveable Cities. With automation likely to reduce the need for parking, cities will face key decisions on how to repurpose these spaces to ensure safer, more sustainable and productive neighbourhoods and cities.

Dynamic congestion pricing could be a simple and effective policy tool to mitigate some of the negative externalities of AVs, like greater vehicle travel and empty vehicle miles. But congestion pricing has been politically difficult to date, with only a few cities worldwide implementing it effectively. Rising gridlock and new technology options could drive greater public appetite for pricing; otherwise, governments will need to look at developing creative policy packages to achieve similar outcomes.

Next steps

The impacts of vehicle automation are likely to extend into many facets of the economy, the physical landscape, and our daily lives. In this introductory commentary, we have only touched on some of the critical issues and questions that we aim to explore further in future posts.

*Kate Palmer, former Transport Analyst (Trainee); Jacob Teter, Transport Analyst.

IEA

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Science and society: Mind the gap

MD Staff

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International regulations are failing to keep up with the mind-boggling pace of new scientific discoveries and potential “cowboy” applications.

As we go about our daily lives we never quite know what is around the corner. Is there anything we are doing—a technology we are using–which could one day cause us harm or threaten our existence?

When scientists discovered the ozone layer was being depleted, policymakers eventually heeded the dire warnings of damage to the environment and human health, and a global agreement was reached to take remedial action.

Science is double-edged in that it can bring enormous benefits to humans, but at the same time it can create things we did not intend, with harmful consequences.

Today, scientists are using new tools like 3D printing, artificial intelligence and increasingly powerful computers, microscopes and satellites to better understand our world. They are discovering possible solutions to challenges we know about and are uncovering emerging challenges.

While innovative science holds out the possibility of solving many of the climate change and ecosystems challenges we face, we must be careful not to unleash a Frankenstein. Thus, it is important that society at large understands the global implications of new discoveries and governments agree on regulations in line with the precautionary principle.

Under this principle, stringent risk assessment and the inclusion of diverse stakeholder perspectives should be applied in the development and handling of innovative applications and products. The precautionary principle states that when human activities may lead to unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, action should be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.

Part of UN Environment’s work is horizon-scanning for the latest discoveries with potentially global implications. To this end, it works with scientists and organizations across the world to highlight the most important emerging challenges for decision-makers in government, business and civil society and provide them with the knowledge and options to act quickly.

At the micro-level, there have been some amazing discoveries recently. Take seed preservation, which is vital given that the world is losing plant species at an unprecedented rate, with about one in five thought to be at risk of extinction.

The Global Strategy for Plant Conservation requires that 75 per cent of threatened plant species be conserved ex situ by 2020. But seed banking (where seeds are dried and stored in a vault at minus 20°C) is not an option for many threatened plants such as oak, chestnut and avocado trees. These trees have desiccation-sensitive seeds which are killed if dried. According to models published in the journal Nature Plants, 36 per cent of critically endangered plant species, 33 per cent of all trees and about 10 per cent of medicinal plants fall into this category.

So alternative techniques are needed. Researchers are investigating cryopreservation for these hard-to-store seeds, which include staples such as coffee and cocoa. Cryopreservation involves removing the plant embryo from the rest of the seed, then freezing it at very low temperatures in liquid nitrogen.

Meanwhile in the United States, scientists have demonstrated how they can generate small quantities of electricity from a mushroom covered in bacteria.

Researchers at Stevens Institute of Technology in the United States used 3D printing to attach clusters of energy-producing bugs to the cap of a button mushroom. They made the mushroom “bionic” by supercharging it with 3D-printed clusters of cyanobacteria (a group of photosynthetic bacteria) that generate electricity, and swirls of graphene nanoribbons that can collect the current. The mushroom, a fungus, provides an environment in which the cyanobacteria can last several days longer than on a silicone and dead mushroom as suitable controls. Such discoveries herald the possibility of harnessing bacteria in new ways for clean energy generation in the future.

Synthetic biology

One challenge identified by UN Environment and partners is the advanced genetic-engineering technology known as synthetic biology. Did you know that scientists can modify microorganisms like E. coli by rewriting their genetic code to turn them into tiny living factories that produce biofuel? Or that Baker’s yeast can also be reprogrammed to derive an antimalarial drug called artemisinin, which is normally sourced from the sweet wormwood plant?

Synthetic biology is defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity as a further development and new dimension of modern biotechnology that combines science, technology and engineering to facilitate and accelerate the understanding, design, redesign, manufacture and/or modification of genetic materials, living organisms and biological systems.

However, the intentional or accidental release of genetically engineered organisms into the environment could have significant negative impacts on both human and environmental health.

Synthetic biology has been identified as an emerging issue with potentially global implications. As such, it will feature alongside governance of geo-engineering, permafrost peatlands, maladaptation (actions that may lead to increased risk of adverse climate-related outcomes), the circular economy of nitrogen, and landscape connectivity in UN Environment’s flagship Frontiers Report due to be released in March 2019.

UN Environment

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New year, new smart home innovations for your interconnected life

MD Staff

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Smart home products made major strides in 2018. More people than ever now use connected devices in their homes, and smart home hubs are constantly adding new integrations and capabilities. Research from Statista predicts that by the end of 2018, more than 45 million smart home devices will be installed in U.S. homes, fueling an exciting new phase for the smart home industry, offering consumers new and improved smart technologies and giving rise to a totally interconnected, easy-to-control environment termed the “smart home.”

This innovation looks to continue in the new year with increasingly intuitive products that make life more enjoyable and interconnected. Here are the new smart home products ready to change the way we live in the new year, coming out of the 2019 Consumer Electronics Show (CES).

Laundry made easy

The calendar might have changed, but your laundry needs haven’t gone anywhere. Thankfully, smart home technology is making the chore a little easier with LG’s Ultimate Laundry Room.

The LG Styler is a first-of-its-kind steam clothing care system certified as asthma and allergy friendly(R) by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA). The Wi-Fi enabled smart LG Styler reduces wrinkles and odor and refreshes garments with the fastest cycle on the market today — as little as 20 minutes — thanks to the gentle power of pure steam technology. Furthermore, LG TWINWash(TM) with SideKick(TM) pedestal washer, an industry-first innovation for laundry, allows users to tackle small loads that are a big deal and can’t wait or wash two loads at the same time.

With LG Styler for daily refreshes, the innovative LG SideKick(TM) mini washer for small loads that can’t wait, and LG’s award-winning top and front load washers and dryers, the LG Ultimate Laundry Room suite of products can be started, stopped or monitored from anywhere using LG’s SmartThinQ(R) app. Users will receive notifications when a cycle has finished, or they can download new cycles, check energy usage and quickly troubleshoot minor issues using Smart Diagnosis. For added convenience, these home solutions can also be controlled with simple voice commands using the Google Assistant.

Smarter home with smart displays

Laundry is just one example of how smart home technology is making life easier. By adding other connected appliances and devices, you can develop a true smart home ecosystem in which seamless integrations produce valuable efficiency. One of the best ways to anchor your ecosystem is with a smart display like the new LG XBOOM AI ThinQ WK9 Smart Display. The advanced smart display builds on the capabilities of a Google Assistant speaker with the added convenience of a touchscreen display and, in partnership with Meridian Audio, delivers high-fidelity sound, precise vocal definition and accurate bass, despite its compact size.

In addition to its audio and video capabilities, the WK9 enables control of other LG ThinQ products such as LG TVs and home appliances, plus more than 10,000 smart devices from over 1,000 brands that work with Google Assistant. By establishing a go-to hub for all your smart home devices, you can increase connectivity and create a fully integrated smart home environment.

Stay connected on-the-go

As innovation continues, smart home technology is branching outside of the home itself. With new products, you can receive notifications regarding your home from anywhere, making sure you never lose touch with the most important things in your life. The first full-screen smartwatch with mechanical hands, the LG Watch W7 allows you to connect and control your smart devices. With two mechanical hands and a micro gearbox, users can enjoy the full WearOS smartwatch experience with the essence and mechanism of a true timepiece. With mobile connectivity, your life becomes easier no matter where you are.

Smart home technology is all about making our lives easier and more comfortable. Whether you’re just doing laundry, looking to power your whole home, or even taking that control on the road, new smart home products provide a level of convenience that’s changing the way we live.

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From Steel to Smartphones, Meet the World Economic Forum’s New Factories of the Future

MD Staff

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BMW Group, Regensburg Plant, Germany

The World Economic Forum today announces the addition of seven new factories to its network of “Manufacturing Lighthouses”, state-of-the-art facilities that serve as world leaders in how to successfully adopt and integrate the cutting-edge technologies of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The Lighthouses join a group of nine others, which were unveiled in 2018. All were selected from an initial list of 1,000 manufacturers based on their successful implementation of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies in ways that have driven financial and operational impact.

The wider purpose of the community is to help overcome the practical challenges being experienced by industries in advanced and emerging economies when upgrading technology. Earlier work by the Forum identified that more than 70% of businesses investing in technologies, such as big data analytics, artificial intelligence (AI) or 3D printing, fail to move beyond the pilot phase. In response to this, all Lighthouses in the network have agreed to open their doors and share their knowledge with other manufacturing businesses.

The new Lighthouses represent a range of industries and geographical locations, with four factories located in Europe, two in China and one in the Middle East. Importantly, the list also contains a medium-sized business, the Italian-based Rold. One frequent challenge highlighted by businesses is that they lack the scale and resources to implement advanced technologies cost effectively.

The new Lighthouses are:

BMW Group (Regensburg Plant, Germany): This car plant manufactured approximately 320,000 vehicles in 2018. By using the custom BMW internet of things platform, it incurred time and cost, but the result has been cut the time to deploy all new applications by 80% leading to, among other things, a significant reduction in logistics costs and 5% reduction in quality issues.

Danfoss, Commercial Compressors (Tianjin, China): This factory makes compressors for refrigerators, air conditioning units and other products. By using its full digital traceability system and digital tools such as smart sensors, visual inspection, auto monitoring system etc. to improve quality control, it has improved labour productivity by 30% and decreased customer complaints by 57% within two years.

Foxconn (Shenzhen, China): “Lights off factory” – This factory, which specializes in components for smartphones and other electrical equipment, boasts a fully automated manufacturing process with machine learning and AI driving auto optimization of equipment, smart self-maintenance and real-time status monitoring in smart production. Its Fourth Industrial Revolution-first approach has resulted in efficiency gains of 30% and lowered its stock cycle by 15%.

Rold (Cerro Maggiore, Italy): This 240-employee business makes locking mechanisms for washing machines and dishwashers. As the only SME in the Lighthouse network, its use of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies such as smart watches, rapid prototyping and digital dashboards has helped improve turnover by between 7% and 8%.

Sandvik Coromant (Gimo, Sweden): This producer of cutting tools and solutions has created a digital thread through its production processes that has significantly raised labour productivity. One example is its ‘touchless changeover’ which allows design patterns to be changed automatically, even during unmanned shifts.

Saudi Aramco Uthmaniyah Gas Plant (Uthmaniyah, Saudi Arabia): The giant’s gas processing plant has become a leader in a number of Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies including the use of Advanced Analytics and Artificial Intelligence solutions via Saudi Aramco Fourth Industrial Revolution Center, the use of drones to inspect pipelines and machinery (cutting inspection times by 90%) and wearable technologies such as digital helmets that help workers cut the time it takes to make inspections and repairs.

Tata Steel (IJmuiden, The Netherlands): This plant of 9,000 employees is putting its people first, creating an Advanced Analytics Academy to help workers come up with solutions to reduce waste, and improve the quality and reliability of production processes. This work has resulted in a significant improvement in financial results.

The Lighthouse programme has been conducted in collaboration with McKinsey. In conjunction with the expansion of the network, the Forum today also publishes a white paper, Fourth Industrial Revolution: Beacons of Technology and Innovation in Manufacturing, which showcases findings from the project to date.

“Lighthouse factories are found in companies large and small, in all industries and regions. Rather than replacing operators with machines, lighthouse factories are transforming work to make it less repetitive, more interesting, diversified and productive. Rather than staying within the factory walls, Lighthouses build a broad innovation system with business, government and civil society. Beyond local pilots, Lighthouses create value and resilience through the supply chain, and agility and responsiveness for customers. Technology, deployed wisely in our manufacturing and production system, can create a better, cleaner world. We hope this network can be a source of inspiration to help break out of productivity stagnation and deliver the maximum positive benefit for society,” said Helena Leurent, Head of the Shaping the Future of Production System Initiative at the World Economic Forum.

“These 16 Lighthouses represent a turning point. We are now seeing the start of the second phase, as Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are penetrating the core of all industries, and our platform of 16 Lighthouses is the clearest sign we have,” said Enno de Boer, Partner and Head of McKinsey’s Global Manufacturing Practice, which collaborated with the Forum on the project. “However, these leaders have a two-year head start ahead of companies that are still sorting out how to scale. We are running the risk that the value creation will be centered around a few ecosystems, rather than disseminated across entire industries. The race has clearly started.”

The extended network of “Manufacturing Lighthouses” will be officially presented at the World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting 2019, taking place on 22-25 January 2019 in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, and convening under the theme, Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

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