Contrary to science-fiction visions of the 21st century, the skies over today’s cities aren’t abuzz with flying cars. This may not be a bad thing, considering that nearly 70% of the world’s population is expected to live in cities by 2050 — it would be an air traffic control nightmare, to say the least.
Currently, there are 33 megacities in the world — cities with populations of 10 million or more. By 2030, six more cities are expected to achieve that status. As urban centers become more dense, the threat of pollution increases, particularly in places where poor air quality is already affecting public health.
Even in cities with well-developed public transportation networks, traffic congestion has increased or shown no signs of improving. McKinsey & Company reports that between 2010 and 2016, congestion rose by 30% in New York, 14% in London, and 9% in Paris. Nearly 75% of the cities included in the Traffic Index report by GPS developer TomTom had increased or stable congestion levels between 2017 and 2018. Out of all the car trips taken in the most congested urban areas in the US, nearly half are less than three miles.
This has led to a new era of short-distance transportation, or “micromobility” — a proliferation of bicycle-sharing schemes, electric bikes, and scooters, as well as the rise (and sometimes fall) of new inventions, such as electric skateboards, hoverboards, Segways and even electric unicycles. “The reason electric micromobility has become more popular is convenience — particularly considering the traffic, parking charges, congestion charges, and the lack of parking spaces,” says Christopher Minasians, editor-in-chief of WhichEV, a website focused on news and reviews related to electric vehicles.
New innovations in micromobility could also make the vehicles far more sustainable than cars, meeting consumer demand for convenience and sustainability. “Consumers are definitely looking for more sustainable solutions,” says Camille Caron, director of education and sustainability for 3D Print at HP. She says consumers’ growing desire for transparency and responsible sourcing has led to a focus on sustainable materials and manufacturing, including the use of 3D printing to reduce waste and increase efficiency in the production of vehicles. Volkswagen, for example, the world's largest auto group, is integrating HP Metal Jet parts into its designs.
The micromobility industry is following suit. Finnish startup Scouter Mobility uses HP’s Jet Fusion 3D printing technology to create a new kind of vehicle fueled by electricity and human pedal power, designed as a cleaner alternative to cars for short distances. “We are looking for zero emissions and very long life cycles,” says Petri Pitkänen, Scouter Mobility’s CEO.