Smart Cities

BMW's vision for the smart city of the future includes autonomous driving and AI

BMW's new venture accelerator allows entrepreneurs to work with its engineers to create human-focused technology that will result in a paradigm shift of urban mobility.

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Cars such as this Vision Next 100 MINI from BMW are part of the future of autonomous vehicles.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

Imagine the not-so-distant future, where a fully autonomous car drops you off at work on time and returns to pick you up at 6 p.m. with your tennis racquet in the car, if that's part of your evening's schedule, or the groceries that you need if you're heading home. You don't even own the car but, instead, have pre-purchased the miles you need to accomplish your tasks.

This is the vision that BMW has for the future of the automobile and urban living, which it focused on at an event in Santa Monica, Calif. last week that showcased the company's four Vision Next vehicles, including the new Vision Next 100 Motorrad motorcycle, as well as Vision Next cars from BMW, MINI, and Rolls-Royce.

SEE: Photos: BMW's Vision Next 100 Motorrad and concept cars (TechRepublic)

"The perfect city is one built around people's needs. We all dream of cities that are green and safe, but also more accessible and convenient. A lot of this convenience can be addressed through services that can get things done for you or make it easier to solve daily problems," said Peter Schwarzenbauer, board member at BMW AG, who discussed the future of personal urban mobility and the promise of connected digital intelligence as part of BMW's event.

In a smart, connected city in the future, people will have "more free time you can use in things you really enjoy. That's one result of advances in artificial intelligence. Another obviously is autonomous vehicles," Schwarzenbauer said. "They will eliminate traffic jams and drive the accident rate down to zero."

As of July 2014, 54% of the world's population lives in cities, up from 34% in 1960. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2050, 75% of the people on the planet will be urban dwellers. Because of this urban population explosion, there's a greater need to minimize automobile traffic and find ways to reduce global emissions.

When autonomous ride-sharing becomes a staple of cities, it will eliminate the need for approximately 90% of vehicles on the road in those cities. This means that of the current 2 million cars in New York City, only 200,000 will be needed when autonomous ride-sharing becomes standard, Schwarzenbauer said.

And while this doesn't seem to be a good business goal for an automobile manufacturer such as BMW to strive to achieve, Schwarzenbauer said that the business model will change, and BMW could sell miles, instead of leasing or selling vehicles.

"Let me give you an example to show you what this means and it makes a lot of business sense for us. We have roughly around about 10 billion miles driven in personal traffic per year in road miles," Schwarzenbauer said. "If we could garner a market share of 1.5% of these miles driven and we would charge $1.50, which is less than a lot of mobility companies [such as Uber] are charging you right now, and you multiply this, you have a company with a turnover of $225 billion U.S. dollars. This is the size currently of Toyota, which is the biggest car manufacturer in the world."

BMW is currently working with the city of Berlin, Germany, on a pilot project where three streets are being transformed into a new urban environment as residents use urban transportation for mobility. The parking areas are being transformed into green spaces to improve the quality of life. BMW is also developing ideas on how to transform city parking garages into affordable living spaces, he said.

To create more ideas for urban living, BMW's MINI founded earlier this year Urban-X, which is a startup initiative to focus on engineering the city as a service. Three of the entrepreneurs who were part of the first round of participants presented their ideas at the BMW event in Santa Monica: Multimer, Brooklyness, and CTY. Each participant was in the program for 3-½ months and were able to work with BMW engineers to hone their ideas.

Multimer uses wearable biosensor technology, known as MindRider, to measure the wearer's brain responses to the objects around them as they commute through a city. The data is then used to help companies make decisions on retail strategy, real estate and advertising.

Brooklyness has designed a smart bike helmet to make riding a bike in the city safer by increasing environmental awareness and visibility.

CTY has created Numina, which analyzes real-time insights from the traffic on a city street, to help urban planners realize how an intersection is being used. It measures how many pedestrians are present at a certain time of day, how many delivery trucks and buses go by, and even how many people in wheelchairs or pushing strollers are present.

SEE: When will we get driverless cars? Experts say public opinion is the critical factor (TechRepublic)

Santa Monica is one of the cities that is planning for the urban living of the future, by adding technology that will make life easier for its citizens, said Rick Cole, Santa Monica's city manager.

"Santa Monica is the ground zero for Los Angeles' introduction to a different kind of city. We're building here in Santa Monica a new model of mobility that isn't focused on any single modality. Not the car, not the bus, not the train, but a seamless way of getting around," Cole said. "Cars will have a place, but we won't be building around cars. We will build the city around people, so that you will be able to pull out your phone and understand what's the cheapest way to get where you want to go, what's the fastest way, what's the most sustainable way."

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Tony Hawk, pro skater, is working with BMW and MINI to create urban skate parks.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

Tony Hawk, pro skater, rode in on his skateboard at the Urban-X event to talk about the importance of creating new technology for cities, including the creation of public skate parks. His foundation has created more than 500 public skate parks in low-income urban areas and for the last few years he's been working with MINI as well.

"For what I do and what I represent, that is the future of creating these landscapes that have continuity with the city that represent these new upstarts and especially in the tech world where they want these cool areas," Hawk said.

"I think going forward as you talk about the Next 100, I expect to share a ride in my autonomous MINI with one of you, maybe, and we'll cruise down to the skate park and practice kickflips on our hoverboards. That's kind of where we're heading with all this, I hope, in my imagination," he said.

Micah Kotch, managing director of Urban-X by MINI, said, "This is about more than just creating seamlessness between the car and the road; it's really about designing a livable city at a time of great challenge and opportunity. Even if you live in the suburbs, the city always seems to call us back. Statistics prove that now, more than at any time in human history, we're answering."

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Micah Kotch, managing director of Urban-X by MINI, talks at BMW's Santa Monica event.

Image: Teena Maddox/TechRepublic

"The future of the automobile is by definition the future of the cities," Kotch said. "That's what Urban-X is here for. Urban-X is an accelerator for entrepreneurs from all around the globe who are making a positive impact on urban life."

There will be 8-12 companies chosen for the next round of entrepreneurs participating in the Urban-X accelerator for the winter 2017 session. Applications are being accepted through November 29, 2016.

Three takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. BMW foresees a future where the company could sell miles instead of vehicles, as ride-sharing becomes a staple of city life.
  2. Urban-X is MINI's new accelerator to help entrepreneurs create human-focused technology for cities.
  3. Applications are being accepted through November 29 for the next Urban-X accelerator session, which will last approximately 3-½ months.

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About Teena Maddox

Teena Maddox is a Senior Writer at TechRepublic, covering hardware devices, IoT, smart cities and wearables. She ties together the style and substance of tech. Teena has spent 20-plus years writing business and features for publications including Peo...

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