“No city can function without logistics”

Professor Vastag, why are mobility and logistics ideas and concepts so important for the city of the future?

Key operations and services in cities are already reliant on logistics systems. Without them, there would be no food supply, nor would there be any refuse collection without logistics solutions. No city can function without logistics. Major cities are initially attractive for logistics service providers because of their high customer density, but the city of the future will bring with it an entirely new set of requirements. Internet shopping not only increases the volume of goods requiring transportation; it also makes for smaller individual shipments. The traffic situation is becoming more and more of a challenge as space becomes ever tighter. This is why “urban logistics” is high up on the political agenda. German businesses and researchers are also working on new ideas and concepts for mobility and logistics in urban areas.

Which urban mobility challenges do big cities in Germany and around the world face?

As far as the short-term future is concerned, in Germany it is initially a question of maintaining the existing well-developed infrastructure despite tight local budgets. In the longer term, major social trends – demographic shifts, individualization of products and services – pose a central challenge because they change trading structures and logistics systems. The volume of traffic and goods deliveries is growing all the time, which demands new and more efficient concepts. Issues such as environmental pollution, fine dust and noise also play an increasingly important role in German cities. The problem is that (local) urban planners often find it almost impossible to keep up with the latest developments because of the high complexity of (global) economic cycles and the rapid pace of technological change.

One example: although smartphones have only dominated the market since 2007, they have significantly changed our shopping patterns and our mobility. It takes at least ten years to expand infrastructure accordingly, however. Global megacities face far more fundamental problems relating to energy and water supply and the disposal of waste. Furthermore, people are exposed to very high levels of pollution, and the transport system regularly collapses. Megacities are under enormous pressure, though this also has a positive aspect: those concerned are not afraid to make major investments, and in many cases innovative solutions are developed.

Logistics expert Professor Alex Vastag

Professor Vastag, why are mobility and logistics ideas and concepts so important for the city of the future?

Key operations and services in cities are already reliant on logistics systems. Without them, there would be no food supply, nor would there be any refuse collection without logistics solutions. No city can function without logistics. Major cities are initially attractive for logistics service providers because of their high customer density, but the city of the future will bring with it an entirely new set of requirements. Internet shopping not only increases the volume of goods requiring transportation; it also makes for smaller individual shipments. The traffic situation is becoming more and more of a challenge as space becomes ever tighter. This is why “urban logistics” is high up on the political agenda. German businesses and researchers are also working on new ideas and concepts for mobility and logistics in urban areas.

Which urban mobility challenges do big cities in Germany and around the world face?

As far as the short-term future is concerned, in Germany it is initially a question of maintaining the existing well-developed infrastructure despite tight local budgets. In the longer term, major social trends – demographic shifts, individualization of products and services – pose a central challenge because they change trading structures and logistics systems. The volume of traffic and goods deliveries is growing all the time, which demands new and more efficient concepts. Issues such as environmental pollution, fine dust and noise also play an increasingly important role in German cities. The problem is that (local) urban planners often find it almost impossible to keep up with the latest developments because of the high complexity of (global) economic cycles and the rapid pace of technological change.

One example: although smartphones have only dominated the market since 2007, they have significantly changed our shopping patterns and our mobility. It takes at least ten years to expand infrastructure accordingly, however. Global megacities face far more fundamental problems relating to energy and water supply and the disposal of waste. Furthermore, people are exposed to very high levels of pollution, and the transport system regularly collapses. Megacities are under enormous pressure, though this also has a positive aspect: those concerned are not afraid to make major investments, and in many cases innovative solutions are developed.

mobility and logistics

How do you picture urban mobility in the future and which concepts are you working on at the Fraunhofer IML?

We are working on concepts and solutions for quiet and environmentally-sound “urban-friendly logistics” based increasingly on electric mobility. We are also exploring ways to help lorry drivers avoid superfluous kilometres, reduce fuel consumption and increase road safety. Furthermore, a central role is played by the interconnection of all actors and by a logistics system that better reflects people’s actual needs. This can only be achieved with big data, Industry 4.0 and cyber-physical systems.

In your view, what makes Germany an outstanding location for urban mobility research?

Research in this area benefits from enormous political and business support. The German government recognized some time ago that vehicle, traffic and transport technologies require urgent further development on the basis of intelligent logistics and infrastructure – mobility and logistics were designated as key technologies for Germany’s economic potential and competitive ability, and receive targeted funding. Overall, Germany boasts a well-positioned research scene and global companies in the logistics, information and communications technology and automotive sectors, and these drive forward key innovations in urban mobility. What is more, numerous implementation-oriented clusters and cooperative ventures between companies and research institutes have been newly established or intensified.

Professor Vastag, thank you very much for this interview.

Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics IML

The Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics researches and devises new solutions relating to material flow and logistics. 

www.iml.fraunhofer.de

Science Year 2015 – City of the Future

Every year, the Science Year addresses a topic of relevance to the future. In 2015 it is focusing on the City of the Future, concentrating on the ideas, technologies and visions that science and research are developing for the sustainable urban life of tomorrow. 

www.wissenschaftsjahr-zukunftsstadt.de