Ready for tomorrow’s trends in mobility?

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Fraunhofer IAO and University of Stuttgart study assesses the maturity and user acceptance of trending mobility technology

Hyperloops and micro-scooters look to be among the most promising solutions for tomorrow’s sustainable transportation. But how do users feel about these modes of transport? The Fraunhofer IAO and the Institute of Human Factors and Technology Management (IAT) looked into the matter. Seeking to determine the chances of trending mobility tech attaining mainstream success, it conducted an international survey and wrote about user acceptance in "Mobility Trends", a study carried out with the FutureCar innovation network.

Congestion, carbon emissions, particulate matter and noise pollution figure prominently among today’s traffic problems. Some manufacturers are exploring alternatives, with trending transportation tech such as air taxis and manned drones being among the more widely known options. The greatest transformation the automotive industry has seen to date is underway with electric drives gaining traction. Innovations like this are certainly crucial to the transition to more sustainable, always-available modes of transportation. But if this changeover is to succeed, users also have to be willing to switch from their personal vehicles to public multimodal or intermodal transport. This transition hinges largely on the public’s acceptance and convictions. In an effort led by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, which coorporates closely with the University of Stuttgart’s Institute of Human Factors and Technology Management IAT, the FutureCar innovation network conducted a user survey to find out how people in various countries feel about new trends in mobility. The "Mobility Trends" study, available exclusively to network partners when it was first published, summarizes the results obtained in South Korea, Germany and the USA. Its authors made a point of examining how the different opinions break down by country and age.

A two-pronged assessment to gauge maturity and user acceptance

First, Fraunhofer IAO and IAT of the University of Stuttgart drew on its knowledge of technology, systems and the transportation sector to assess the technological readiness level (TRL) of trending mobility tech. TRLs serve to rate technologies’ risks and feasibility on a scale with nine levels. TRL 1 means that the basic principles have been observed and reported, while TLR 9 denotes that the actual system has been proven in an operational environment.

The research team analyzed the results of a survey of a 2,220 people in Germany, South Korea and the USA. They were polled in November 2019 specifically for this study with an online questionnaire. It questions focused on assessing trending innovations in mobility, which were grouped in three larger categories. One covers evolutionary advances on conventional vehicles - that is electric cars, automated driving and connected mobility services. The second encompasses revolutionary modes of transport such as e-scooters, autonomous air taxis and hyperloops, which respondents were also asked to assess. The third category presented for participants’ evaluation was the disruptive form of virtual mobility.

Hyperloops top e-scooters: user acceptance and TRL diverge

User acceptance for electric cars, automated driving and connected mobility services was greater than for other surveyed trending tech. For example, the technology behind TLR 9-rated e-cars is proven. Respondents are well-disposed towards these cars; some even use them. The majority of people surveyed across all countries and age groups expects the public to be interested in this technology and uptake to be strong. Users feel much the same about connected mobility systems. A particularly noteworthy finding is that the majority of users see e-scooters as a niche product with little added value - and this despite the fact that they have been on the market for around two years and therefore have a TLR 8 rating.

Survey participants are largely skeptical about autonomous cars. As it stands, these are still prototypes undergoing trials with a TLR 7 rating. Younger respondents are relatively open-minded, but overall, doubts and fears about their use prevail. Respondents appear disinclined to use air taxis, which currently have a lower TLR. Interestingly, they are far more open to the hyperloop concept, which also has a low TRL, than they are to e-scooters. "These results tell us that user acceptance varies greatly regardless of the low TRL, especially for the more novel forms of transportation. Users find road and rail vehicles - even those that exist merely as prototypes - to be far more trustworthy than urban air taxis," says Florian Albert from the Fraunhofer IAO. His colleague Maximilian Werner from the IAT adds, "Potential users’ trust in these novel forms of mobility will be decisive to the success of their rollout in our cities and the transformation of transportation. This is why technological innovations in the mobility sector should always and early be considered from the user’s perspective."