In writing about almost any topic over the last sixteen months or so, it has been nearly unavoidable not to relate to the global Covid pandemic and this includes the subject of urban mobility. As the impact of various lockdowns around the world took effect and human activity was curtailed, various data showed massive decreases in the use of public transport due to physical distancing requirements, a steep reduction in typical motor vehicle use as a result of work from home arrangements, and a very significant shift to other modes of transport such as cycling and walking. Coupled with this, many governments around the world recognized the urgent need to do more on the issue of climate change and began leveraging these significant changes in mobility patterns to advance their green agendas.
In the urban mobility arena, Israel has shown itself, once again, to be a world leader. Its credentials have become well established in the last near decade, demonstrated by events such as Google’s acquisition of Waze, the collaborative navigation app in 2013, and by Intel’s acquisition in 2017 of Mobileye which developed technology for self-driving cars and advanced driver-assistance systems. More recently, in May of 2020, Intel also acquired Moovit, a “mobility-as-a-service” provider and journey planning app. Apart from the acquisition, Moovit also collaborated with Israel’s Transport Ministry and another Israeli mobility and payment app, Pango which paved the way, this year, for commuters in Israel, to get public transport information, help with travel planning and easy mobile payment of fares at best rates, all in one convenient and integrated app.
Reinventing the car: New EV and smart car technology.
Israeli technology is also changing the way vehicles are designed and built. Despite not being a traditional car manufacturing location, many companies, such as General Motors, Daimler, VW, and Ford, to name a few, have R&D centers in Israel to take advantage of Israeli cyber, AI, smart data, and sensor technologies and integrate them into their vehicles. Exciting indigenous auto technology companies like REE are developing new approaches to electric vehicle production. Its revolutionary technology houses traditional vehicle systems (steering, braking, suspension, powertrain, and control) into the arch of the wheel, allowing it to provide the industry’s flattest electric vehicle platform, upon which any size or shape or even autonomous vehicle can be developed. Such a platform can be used for numerous applications in a very diverse range of markets.
Pushing the boundaries is yet another Israeli firm, City Transformer, which has developed a small and highly maneuverable two-seat electric car, that is 2.49 meters long and 1.4 meters wide. Its unique structural design enables it to fold to just 1 meter wide allowing for parking in narrow spaces. Surely a Godsend in any major city!
Reinventing the bicycle: e-Scooters, bikes and e-bikes
One cannot write about urban mobility nowadays without reference to scooters, bikes, and e-bikes and in this domain, Israel too is innovating. As well as being one of the first countries to regulate, mainly for safety, scooter sharing services, such as Lime, Wind, and Bird, Israeli firms are updating the technology of the pedal bike which has remained largely unchanged since the eighteen hundreds.
For example, B.C. Bike is the developer of OYO, a bicycle that works via hydraulic power rather than using a traditional chain-driven mechanism. Another firm, TreGo enables users to transform any bicycle into a multipurpose tricycle simply by replacing the front wheel with one of their add ons. The company has also created an accessory that converts a regular bicycle into an electric tricycle without any tools.
For those who want to benefit from building or maintaining their fitness on a pedal bike but want to have the option to benefit from electric power on longer or hilly commutes, Eycyli offers a novel solution. The company has developed a lightweight power unit that converts any regular bike into an e-bike. The unit is detachable and can be taken with the rider when the bike is parked.
Israel’s Green Ride offers a digital personal vehicle (DPV) called INU, a GSM, Bluetooth, and Wifi enabled electric scooter designed specifically for urban transport. With its robotic, automatic folding mechanism, the scooter is highly versatile and offers a great solution for those looking to combine various modes of transport or traveling longer distances.
From autonomous vehicles to evolving bikes and digital mobility platforms, innovation in the Israeli smart transportation sector is supported by Ecomotion, a joint venture initiative between the Ministry of Economy and Industry Innovation Ecosystems Systems Department, the Israel Innovation Institute, and the Smart Mobility Initiative. It brings together entrepreneurs, academics, government officials, local & global automotive industry representatives, investors, and others in order to provide a support platform for knowledge-sharing, networking, and collaboration.
With this type of ecosystem, the road ahead for Israeli smart urban mobility solutions is clear.