Smart mobility shows off in Hamburg

18 October 2021

Come, take a glimpse at the future of mobility.

There’s an open-air vehicle beaming with blue and green lights with a deceiving appearance: it’s not James Bond’s next car but, instead, an eye-catching display of some of the latest technologies for vehicle electrification and automation.

There’s a driverless machine picking up and sorting garbage in colourful containers, so you don’t have to. And different types of autonomous shuttles ferrying passengers to the airport and urban areas.

They were all on display in Hamburg at the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) world congress, the largest and most influential international event for smart mobility and digital transport innovations.

Edag’s latest offer for sorting garbage. ©Lucian Zagan

Policymakers, politicians, municipalities, mayors, scientists, CEO’s and managers from over 100 countries took to this year’s event from 11 to 15 October.

Start-ups and household names in the public and private sector – from the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) to Google Cloud to Lufthansa – were among the 400 exhibitors showcasing the inventions that may well change the way we’ll soon move around.

For five days, the 30,000 square metre ITS exhibition space was abuzz with live demonstrations on new transport solutions and technologies.

“We are starting a new era for smart mobility, and I really want the ITS congresses going forward to be the platform on which we drive this era forward,” said Lisa Boch-Andersen, Director of Communications for congresses and events at ERTICO – ITS Europe.

The ITS wolrd congress also offered Eurocities a worldwide platform to display its activities in the field of digitalised, connected and automated mobility and present cities’ perspectives.

Bosch’s latest technologies for vehicle electrification and automation. ©Lucian Zagan

Putting solutions to the test

Ultimately, these impressive innovations will need to face a real-life test in an urban context, says Peter Staelens, Senior Projects Coordinator for Mobility at Eurocities. This will be paramount to ensure that – beyond their jaw-dropping features – automated transport services of the future can be deployed safely and sustainably, providing concrete benefits for cities and residents.

“Intelligent transport systems should be an enabler for clean, safe and inclusive mobility, not an end it itself,” Staelens remarks.

The climate emergency is making the need for a more structured dialogue and cooperation between cities and the technology community ever more urgent, Staelens adds. He encourages municipalities and ITS suppliers to develop a better understanding of each other’s needs and potential, with the ultimate goal to develop mobility solutions that will improve residents’ lives and make cities greener and more inclusive.

Embedding new transport services and technologies in sustainable urban mobility plans and shifting the focus from optimising car traffic to a multimodal lifestyle will serve this purpose, Staelens says.

A driverless ZF shuttle. ©Lucian Zagan

The Hamburg model

Hamburg is already mastering this transition: the city is currently assessing dozens of technology and digital innovations by transferring them from the lab to the road, eager as it is to curb traffic.

The driverless minibus HEAT (Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation) is among the futuristic vehicles that the city is trying out. The car has just started shuttling passengers around town and will help Hamburg evaluate the feasibility of similar automated solutions in real-life traffic conditions.

Hamburg city landscape

As a vibrant metropolitan area linking northern with central Europe, it’s no chance that Hamburg was selected to host ITS. The city is itself at the forefront of sustainable technology and home to innovation clusters in the aviation, life science, logistics, maritime economy, media and renewable energy sectors.

Hosting the ITS congress will help reinforce the city’s image as a leading European smart mobility hub.

Thanks to its strategic position in northern Germany and proximity to the North Sea, Hamburg has a long history as a global trade and commerce focal centre. It’s also Europe’s largest railway port in Europe, boasting over 1,300 train freights a week, a robust rail infrastructure that’s just about to get bigger and more modern.

Last week, the automated ‘Digital S-Bahn Hamburg’ – a digitally controlled train with no human driver – started to operate on the city’s railway tracks, transporting passengers along a 23-kilometre route around town. It’s the first Digital Rail for Germany project, a country-wide overhaul of Germany’s rail infrastructure.

Plans for Hamburg include an upgrade of the city’s central line railway. The long-term goal is to shift traffic from road to rail and use freight trains to carry goods in place of road trucks, with clear benefits on the air quality in town.

See you in Toulouse

A view of Toulouse© P.Nin

The much-needed debate on the progress of digital transport innovations and their application to urban roads will continue next year in Toulouse.

The French city will host the ITS European congress from 30 May to 1 June 2022 under the slogan ‘Smart and sustainable mobility for all.’

Toulouse is one of Europe’s capitals for intelligent transport research.  The headquarters of the Airbus Group, Airbus Defence & Space and Thalès Alénia Space, the city also is an international hub for the aeronautical industry and the space sector.

Until next year’s ITS congress, municipalities, mobility experts, and broader stakeholders can already start formulating their needs and expectations on automated mobility by participating in an online poll via this link. The deadline is 31 October 2021.

The survey was launched within the EU-funded SHOW project and with the participation of Eurocities. It aims to better understand challenges and what aspects of commercially operated services will require specific regulations in the future.


Daniela Berretta Eurocities Writer