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The connected, heterogeneous, intelligent and personalised (‘CHIP’) mobility framework. By Prof. Dr. Venkat Sumantran, Chairman of Celeris Technologies.

Einstein observed that “nothing changes until something moves”. No wonder mobility has been the lifeblood of civilisation, powering economic development and social change throughout history. Even in contemporary society, bolstered by ubiquitous digital connectivity, the need for freedom of – and access to – mobility for both economic and social benefits endures as priority.

Yet, the context of mobility has undergone rapid change. In 1900, one out of every six inhabitants on the planet lived in an urban area. By 2050, four out of every six will. Accelerated urbanisation results in cities where population density is rising fast. The economic value of urban space is rapidly climbing and societies are compelled to use this resource equitably and efficiently. A car-dependent mobility architecture is therefore not space-efficient.

Growing concern for the environment also compels us to deal with the dual problems of global warming – due to ever increasing carbon emissions – and local air quality degradation in many cities, often caused by automotive exhaust emissions. Typically, the automobile, as a mobility format, involves moving the average human adult (weighing 65 kg) within a metal envelope weighing twenty times that mass (roughly 1300 kg). This absurd equation implies significant carbon footprint as long as fossil fuels form a good fraction of a nation’s energy basket.


Recent analysis across the globe suggests that the average automobile is used for less than five percent of its lifetime. The automobile is an expensive asset, filled with precious materials and created via an elaborate manufacturing process. Macro-economic considerations demand that it is better utilised.

Based on the above, from considerations of urban space utilisation, carbon footprint and asset economics, car-dependent urban mobility is increasingly an extravagance. Our mobility architecture therefore requires urgent transformation to meet the needs of contemporary society.

Fortunately, we may count upon several factors that can power this change. First, culturally, modern society has been captivated by a new love affair with digital devices and letting go of that old love, the automobile, is not too hard for many. Secondly, the combination of digital devices and infrastructure has unleashed a swath of innovation that offers new possibilities with mobility services.

Parallel innovations such as food delivery and entertainment streamed to one’s home or personal device can be attractive alternatives to personal travel. Thirdly, the auto industry is itself gearing for a degree of transformation, with investments in four distinct foundations: (a) electrification, (b) connectivity, (c) shared mobility and (d) autonomous driving. Collectively, these trends can support a new mobility architecture that should cater to our imperatives.

Noting that mobility architectures and urban design have evolved through a symbiotic relationship, each city or society has unique requirements in terms of expanse and topology, affordability, environmental priorities and local climate. Characterising what the transformed mobility architecture should look like is therefore not practical. What is more useful is to define the building blocks that can be used to construct a locally relevant mobility architecture, while providing guidelines for policies that may orchestrate its operation to suit the imperatives.

In our research, undertaken over four years, across the globe, we have converged to a set of building blocks that underpin our connected, heterogeneous, intelligent and personalised (“CHIP”) mobility framework.

Heterogeneous refers to the very wide choice we have today with respect to mobility modes. What used to be a binary choice between private (personal car) and public modes (mass transit) has quickly diversified into a rich spectrum of non-motorised modes – new pedestrian zones and bike paths are flourishing in many cities) – as well as e-bikes and scooters, electric vehicles, and bus rapid transit corridors. These are complemented by a host of ride-hailing and ride-sharing options.

Connectivity requires that these numerous options are effectively linked through a combination of physical infrastructure – for example, bike-docks outside metro stations – and digital infrastructure, such as mobility apps, that allow a traveller to plan more efficient, multi-modal journeys.

Intelligent systems harnessed within smartphones can sort through the theoretically infinite number of journey, mode and route options to identify key parameters of selection: journey duration, cost, carbon footprint and convenience.

Finally, personalisation tools allow each traveller to configure each journey based on contextual priorities.

The CHIP framework can be tailored to suit the needs of each city through a local set of policies and regulations that orchestrate this framework. A combination of incentives (priority access, subsidies, etc.) and dis-incentives (fees, access restrictions, etc.) are being increasingly used to nudge travellers into choosing modes that are more aligned to societal priorities. Through this, the mobility architecture is transformed to more effectively share urban space, limit carbon footprint and lower travel cost in a manner that is locally relevant.

Cities like Singapore, Tokyo and London are good examples. With the CHIP framework, each city can then configure its mobility architecture to be faster, smarter and greener.

Prof. Dr. Venkat Sumantran is co-author of the book, “Faster, Smarter, Greener: the Future of the Car and Urban Mobility”, published by the MIT Press (2017). He will be speaking at SHIFT Automotive, which is taking place from 10-11 September 2019 in Berlin, in conjunction with IFA, the world’s leading trade show for consumer electronics and home appliances. To book your ticket or enquire about being an exhibitor visit:


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