In our continuous quest to make our lives easier, smoother and more productive, mobility is front and center. Technology and new services have significantly changed the field. Automation of mobility changes our everyday along with technologies like AR or VR. Instead of people, products and services are often the ones in motion.
Right now, the processes and infrastructure of fluidity are being built – the walls of offices, retail spaces and homes will be adaptive and multimodality will define our mobility. Vast potential lies in background systems that facilitate mobility and in concepts that shake up the very notion of fluidity.
New layers of augmented and virtual reality make fluidity an even more nuanced topic, as they are eliminating the need to be mobile in the first place. Fluidity is a theme which reaches beyond mobility: Right now, pop-up shops are making retail spaces ever-changing, as well.
Not all of this is without missteps. Electric scooters are the mobility solution nobody wanted: they clutter our streets, congest urban traffic and cause accidents. Reducing mobility wreaks havoc on our bodies, as we get even more sedentary. In spite of all the progress, fluidity still has to conform to the rigid walls of our cities, bodies and minds.
Right now, the processes and infrastructure of fluidity are being built – the walls of offices, retail spaces and homes will be adaptive and multimodality will define our mobility. Vast potential lies in the background systems that facilitate mobility and in concepts that shake up the very notion of fluidity.
Burger King was among the first to offer rush-hour deliveries to people idling in their cars. Operating on voice commands, an app sends motorcycle messengers laden with Whopper meals to hungry prisoners of traffic. The delivery service, paired with ads along the freeway, seems like a cynical bid to capitalize on a congested world – and it is working. Burger King reported a 44 percent increase in app download and a 63 percent increase in daily delivery orders in Mexico City.
As part of the search new ways to reduce emissions, Loop is a new project aiming to reduce emissions with a zero-waste model, where major brands are packaging their products in reusable containers, to be returned for refills after use.
The Dutch National Railway Company is looking into facilitating the blending of different functions in a train. With Mecanoo and Gispen, they are using modular and re-configurable designs to go beyond just being a mode of transport – offering open and social spaces as well as private and separate areas for relaxing or working. Currently in concept phase, the vision could be a reality aboard trains in 2025-
Looking to solidify their position as the most bike-friendly city in the world, the Dutch town of Utrecht is rethinking the transition from the bicycle to the train in their central railway station with a new bike parking garage. The goal is to make the transition as fluid as possible. Instead of relying on the old ‘bike in, walk out’ model, the garage itself creates a huge loop below the station. Access to the station and platforms is spread throughout the garage, and there’s only a single route to follow in order to reach every parking spot.
02 Behind the scenes
The infrastructure of fluidity is under construction. New cloud solutions, AI and redesigned logistics systems present ways of enabling a new mobility, where the movement of people is more fluid than ever. Just as importantly, products and services are mobile and reach us, as robotics enables autonomous goods flow.
All this is made possible by a developing system of behind-the-scenes mobility, where backend solutions bring huge gains to various groups. These developments are not as visible or striking as self-driving cars or new electric vehicles, but may prove more important in enabling a more fluid life in a sustainable manner.
Food as a service might be old news, but the ways restaurants are purchasing the ingredients for their dishes are older still. Choco is looking to replace systems of mail, phone calls and voicemails with a wholesale platform that cuts down on clutter, bringing savings to restaurants. Beyond improving business, Choco could help reduce the food waste problem rampant in the restaurant industry – only a quarter of the industry’s food waste has anything to do with the customers.
Fabric is looking to provide AI- and robotics-driven logistics to retailers of all sizes. Their model could give businesses without capital for their own logistics infrastructure a boost to their fulfillment processes and make things like restocking much simpler. Beyond that, Fabric could help businesses stay relevant in the age of Amazon – as same-day deliveries are becoming the expectation, effective fulfillment is a life and death matter.
Walmart’s Intelligent Retail Lab, or IRL for short, features AI-driven solutions for restocking shelves, keeping shopping carts available and manning cash registers in a predictive way. All this is transparent and even works as an eyecatcher, as customers are able to peer into the backend of the store, complete with data of the computers crunching numbers and keeping the AI-driven retail experience going. IRL is closely designed to cater to Walmart’s associates, too, as the system can augment their capabilities and cut down more mundane tasks.
03 The near world
Some of the most exciting steps toward fluidity are taken with augmented and virtual reality, which tend to reduce mobility. They can enrich our presence by localized services and make new forms of self-service possible. AR and VR free us of constraints of space by providing contextual services, or even allow a sort of time travel by layering other realities on top of our existing one. The near world is being built at an accelerating pace.
Mixed or Extended Reality (MR/XR) is using tech to embed information in our world, as opposed to layering it on top or providing an alternate reality. The Finnish company Varjo is one of the leading players in the field with their XR-1 headset.
Technical requirements for MR are high, and first use cases have been with businesses. With Volvo, Varjo created a means for dealerships to offer test drives with cars that aren’t yet available. In the future, MR could use its capability to near-seamlessly blend real and virtual to serve architects, designers and businesses like Volvo or others looking to showcase upcoming products in a real environment.
As AR tech matures, a group of companies are creating a Mirrorworld. The term describes the virtual counterparts of the real world that exist in the realm of augmented reality. Glimpses of the Mirrorworld can be seen via Google Earth, Pokémon Go and various other existing AR apps, but scientists and engineers are constructing the Mirrorworld at an accelerating pace, and it will be a 1:1 virtual counterpart of the entire world.
Despite many possible risks and uncertainties – the business model, achieving momentum, privacy concerns, physiological and psychological effects, privacy – Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired Magazine, believes that the Mirrorworld is an inevitability, because it simply makes our world safer, more accessible and richer.
As augmented reality is maturing, commercial uses have begun cropping up. Nike has been looking into making use of AR to help customers perform shoe fitting from the comfort of their own homes. While Nike Fit, as the company calls the feature, has obvious benefits for online shopping, plans have included adoption of Nike Fit in every retail location as well, and will serve as the primary method for fitting Nike shoes.
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