More and more people are being drawn to the cities, while rural areas will become increasingly deserted in the future – this is how many scientists predict the immediate population development. Alexander Mankowsky, however, sees it differently. Mankwosky is a futurologist at Daimler. His thesis: In the future, people will gradually turn their backs on the crowded cities and instead move back to the countryside, where families in particular would appreciate the peace and quiet and where rents are affordable. The main drivers of this anticipated development of “de-urbanization” a new social mobility, flexible working models and a fluid, decentralized understanding of transport and logistics, which is expressed in a culture of sharing and shared benefit. And this is established above all by automation and digitization and made possible by vans, robots and drones. Still sounding a little specific? Then one thing after the other.
Born in Swabia, he studied sociology, philosophy and psychology at the Daimler automotive group in 1989 – and has been researching new concepts of social coexistence ever since. In addition to artificial intelligence (AI) and tomorrow’s mobility solutions, he is particularly concerned with the cultural aspects associated with technological issues: How can human talents be inspired by machines, how can the community be optimized by machine support and above all – how does all this affect people? The futurologist devotes himself to these and other central issues.
Artificial intelligence plays a central role for Mercedes-Benz. Priority has been given to the development of cognitive vehicles that can react and act independently in given situations. What is important here is the unique combination and precise tuning of automatic image and pattern recognition, which make autonomous vehicles possible in the first place. A task that is optimized not least through cooperation with renowned research institutions such as the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
For Mankowsky, technology is first and foremost the engine of social and societal change. It is already apparent how current technological developments will shape the society of the future. “When I say “now,” I mean in maybe seven to ten years,” Mankowsky says with a smile. Time seems to take place in different relations with a futurologist. In any case, Mankowsky is certain that in ten years autonomous vehicles will dominate urban traffic, autonomous taxis will be used and drones, which are launched from vans, will take over the delivery of all kinds of goods, among other things. “We can already see the roots of all this, development is already underway.”
In fact, Mercedes-Benz Vans is driving such innovations. Mercedes-Benz has developed an exciting cooperation project with the Californian company Matternet for tomorrow’s logistics solutions. Vans & Drones is the name of the joint venture in which drones use the vans with the star as the basis for their delivery orders. Together with Starship Technologies, the Swabian vans are also revolutionizing last mile logistics; at Vans & Robots, robots that are transported by a van to the appropriate delivery location deliver the parcels individually to the customer.
More and more people will live outside the cities, but thanks to flexible working models from there they can still remain part of the production and working world. New mobility and connectivity concepts will ensure the connection and exchange of different sectors. In the society predicted by Mankowsky, however, vans, robots, drones and autonomous vehicles are more than mere suppliers. They are part of a comprehensive mobility system of communicating machines which, depending on the situation, react unpredictably but individually and intelligently to human needs – to relieve the burden on people, of course.
“Vans are the hidden champion in all this change immobility,” explains Mankowsky,” because it is from the space truly universal. You can do so many things in them: you can produce stuff, you can have your own workshop. Another possibility would be the delivery of goods – it is a very flexible system.” The futurologist calls this variable “workshop” or FabLab, which can be adapted to the respective needs – and thus enable a completely different source of creativity. “In the future,” says the native Swabian with conviction, “people will simply be able to meet in these workshops without having to be in a densely populated city. They will be able to choose a suitable place and meet there for a certain period of time to develop more individual, creative products”.
But what role will electromobility play in this concept? The futurologist emphasizes: “One thing is certain: we must avoid CO2 because of global warming. However, electrification does not necessarily have to be accompanied by a battery. The energy source is something separate – it could be hydrogen, there is room for innovation.” Pollution on one hand, noise pollution on the other: Could electrically powered vans be the long-awaited solution in congested urban areas? Due to lower noise level it would be possible to have deliveries also take place at night. Combined with autonomous driving systems and simultaneous integration of drones or robots, this certainly represents an innovative step towards unlimited mobility.
Today’s society is separated from each other.
In line with Mankowsky’s vision, new challenges, such as increasing flexibility and self-organization, are coming to the fore. These, going back to the evolutionary process, are not really new: The principle of sharing will therefore again take up a central basic idea, which has been developed over thousands of years and is now to be realigned. “Today’s society is separated from each other,” explains the Swabian. “When we move to Shanghai for projects, the desire to stay in touch grows. And then Facebook isn’t enough.” According to Mankowsky, real touch is needed, which Mankowsky sees in the joint use of things.
The futurologist explains his theory using the example of certain boxes. Whether work, car or home: nowadays people are always accessible – in their respective boxes. The solution? A kind of free space community where you can live, work and be creative. In this new constellation, the production of goods will also play an important role. Avant-gardists would already take a step ahead of society by abandoning e-commerce products – and simply producing their own goods. With this way of life they are more dynamic and mobile than ever before. An idea that Mankowsky envisages in his planning for the whole of society: “Decentralization in order to form a network. “Technologically speaking, this is innovation in the works.” So this change is also an opportunity to be able to do what one wants, to be creative and to realize one’s dreams.
Photos: Daimler Media