Fraunhofer IAO and MIT launch the Ambient Mobility Lab

© Fraunhofer IAO

Top-class international research into tomorrow’s mobility

Fraunhofer IAO and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are launching a joint lab focused on mobility called the Ambient Mobility Lab. Marking the start of this collaborative effort and offering the first insights into what’s to come was an opening event held on July 9, 2014. In attendance were Baden-Württemberg’s Minister of Finance and Economics Nils Schmid, Jeffrey M. Hill from the Consulate General of the United States, Maria Zuber, Vice President for Research at Boston-based MIT, and a host of scientists from both institutes.

With the world’s population predicted to pass the nine billion mark by the year 2050 and over 75 percent of it living in cities, we need to find out how everyone will get from A to B and how to set a course for sustainable mobility. Top researchers from Germany and the USA are now on the hunt for answers to these pressing questions. Representatives from two leading authorities in this field – the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO, and the SENSEable City Lab at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) – are working together in the Ambient Mobility Lab. Their common goal is to develop, evaluate and apply future-ready mobility concepts. These include innovative, cutting-edge technologies such as autonomous driving, new drive concepts, sharing solutions as well as the potential applications for augmented reality. Another crucial question to address is just how these technologies can establish themselves within existing and future urban systems.

Over the course of the two-day kick-off event held at Fraunhofer IAO in Stuttgart on July 9 and 10, scientists and politicians spoke about the German-US cooperative project that is being funded by the Land of Baden-Württemberg to the tune of 2.65 million Euros. Nils Schmid, member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Baden-Württemberg’s Minister of Finance and Economics, emphasized how integral the cooperation is to his government’s e-mobility strategy. “In the light of current global challenges, it is essential that we waste no time in developing future mobility concepts,” said Schmid. “I’m especially pleased that this cooperation between Fraunhofer IAO and MIT will provide food for thought to our automotive and supplier industries.” Jeffrey M. Hill from the Consulate General of the United States, Frankfurt, pointed out that “experience tells us that we need to keep investing in sustainable mobility and continuously update infrastructures and technology.” He is convinced that “over the next 15 years, the Ambient Mobility Lab’s scientists and engineers will change mobility in ways we can’t imagine today.” Wilhelm Bauer, Head of Fraunhofer IAO, Maria Zuber, Vice President for Research at Boston-based MIT, as well as Carlo Ratti and Assaf Biderman – Director and Associate Director respectively of the MIT SENSEable City Lab – all underlined the exceptional significance of the international collaboration.

“We are delighted to support the Ambient Mobility Lab, which draws upon the enviable talent and capabilities of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and MIT,” said Zuber. “The synergy between MIT’s penchant for developing technology to enable practical solutions and Fraunhofer’s excellence in applied science is key to shaping the future of urban mobility, with a greater goal of no less than improving the human condition.”

“I’m thrilled that we have the chance to pool our expertise with MIT’s in order to shape the mobility of the future,” said Bauer. “To do this, we need more than new mobility concepts – we also need a smart IT infrastructure capable of networking these concepts successfully and integrating them into our cities in a way that benefits everyone.” “As our cities are quickly becoming ‘computers in open air,’ new and unprecedented opportunities open up – especially in the field of mobility” said Ratti. “Electrification is changing propulsion, self driving is blurring the distinction between private and public transportation, data is transforming multimodality and user interaction. It is no understatement to say that we are about to witness one of the most significant mobility transformations in over a century.”

Linking the high-tech, inter-disciplinary research conducted at MIT with an application-oriented approach such as is pursued at Fraunhofer IAO is truly unique. “We’re factoring in the support of industrial and service companies early on. And in doing so we intend to start now to plan applied research initiatives, to test solutions and technologies, and to secure key growth markets,” explains Jochen Verhasselt, manager of the Ambient Mobility Lab on the Fraunhofer IAO side. “We are especially excited about looking into future-proofing mobility solutions – which are now radically being impacted by the pervasive deployment of ICT,” says Paolo Santi, manager of the Ambient Mobility Lab on the MIT side.

A number of projects are already underway as part of the joint research phase and the first synergies are starting to emerge from the transatlantic collaboration. Among the questions being addressed are: What will tomorrow’s taxis look like? How can each of us transport our private purchases in an affordable and eco-friendly way – and without having to use a private vehicle? Which mobility systems are right for the future? And how can users get quick and easy access to all these concepts? Verhasselt predicts that social media and apps will have a major role to play.

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