High-tech transport for a sustainable urban future

(Image credit: Jamesteohart / Shutterstock)

Is technology always the answer to questions of sustainability?

Yes, in parts: as a society we are looking to live more sustainable lives and technology will play a huge role in this future, especially when we’re thinking about technological innovation in design and production. 

But it’s important to look at the bigger picture, too. Technology is a critical enabler, but it isn’t the only answer. The true route to a sustainable future is in people’s attitudes and their desire to have a positive impact on the world around them, deploying technology in their day-to-day to make their environments smarter and more sustainable.

What are the challenges for urban environments in relation to a sustainable urban future?

Rapid rates of urbanisation driven by population growth mean that cities are increasingly becoming the nexus at which stresses on environment, health, and wellbeing meet. 

In 2016, an estimated 55% of the world’s population lived in urban settlements – this is set to hit 60% by 2030. Cities already consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and emit nearly three quarters of its greenhouse gases, and transport is a significant contributor to this. We need sustainable and scalable solutions to this challenge.

What are the solutions for these challenges?

Against this backdrop, electric vehicles have a vital role to play in making our cities more liveable, healthy and sustainable. Yet the conversation to date hasn’t explored the range of low-impact technologies to a great enough extent. 

Existing mobility solutions, including public transport, can’t keep up with the growth of our cities. They are not addressing increasing congestion and pollution with the urgency these issues require. The only answer is to redefine urban mobility by making a product that is more relevant to the problem, and then to scale that new solution at pace. The public sector alone cannot be responsible for rising to this challenge, so it’s important that sustainable urban mobility products are desirable at a consumer level too.

How do you envisage cities, or smart cites, changing in the future?

We already know that cities - as population hubs essential to our ongoing development - will continue to grow. 

With this growth, cities will need lifestyle and transportation solutions that allow inhabitants to navigate them efficiently. As we have seen with the rise of on-demand taxi services, there is increasing demand for individual mobility. 

Of course, no one size fits all, but current options only add to congestion, locking down our cities rather than opening them up. Cities need answers that are smarter, and the people who live in them need solutions that mark them out as individuals, as well as putting control of their movement in their hands. 

We want to take this one step further by providing smart, sustainable and appealing urban mobility solutions directly for the consumer. Research shows that replacing 80% of vehicles on the road with EVs by 2050 would cut emissions of NOx, PM, and SO2 by more than 80% in comparison with 2010 levels. And when you consider that 10 e-scooters can be parked in every car parking spot, they are an obvious solution to an increasingly pressing challenge.

How is Ujet disrupting urban mobility for smart cities?

It is a question of making urban transport truly fit for the future. Our mission is to enable individuals to change their relationship with the cities they inhabit, and we are excited to work with cities to improve mobility, convenience and sustainability.

There are already electric scooters on the market, though Ujet offers a different proposition and is specifically designed for the practicalities of city living through a unique approach, combining four fundamentals - material science, refined design, smart connectivity and clean technology. 

These fundamentals combined make a radically better alternative: an advanced electric scooter, lightweight, appealing, practical and connected. I fundamentally believe that if we create products that people enjoy and desire, something new and exciting but also smart and sustainable, then individuals will want to engage with them.

Looking ahead, what technology are you most excited about?

I'm excited at what is possible with advances in the materials we rely on, especially when it comes to the production of single wall carbon nanotubes. These materials were once only available for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they now cost in the thousands. 

We’ve used nanotechnology technology in the world’s first nano-augmented tyre, which means drivers never lose traction and get increased grip. But the possibilities are endless. Recent connectivity developments are also full of potential, as the streets in our cities turn into social networks. 

What's most exciting is that design will no longer be restricted by technology, and we can do now what once was impossible. Now these advanced materials are in the hands of more people, we will see even more innovation. I can’t wait to see what’s next, especially in terms of how people will continue to sculpt our environments around our wants and needs.

Hugues Despres is CEO, Ujet International