An aerial view of cars at an intersection.
 Road traffic generated about three-quarters of global transport emissions in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Image: Tom Fisk / Pexels
Traffic/logistics

Finland is paving the way for new mobility

Companies in Finland are paving the way toward an era of mobility characterised by automation, electricity and multimodal services.

Aleksi Teivainen

17.06.2021

Mobility is at a crossroads. The options for getting from one place to another are becoming more varied and flexible especially for urban dwellers as vehicle manufacturers, mobility service providers and transport authorities scurry to launch new solutions in response to environmental objectives and a shift in consumer behaviour – away from ownership toward sharing.

Transport emissions have continued to creep up in spite of increasing efficiency, electrification and biofuel use, accounting for nearly a quarter of direct carbon dioxide emissions globally after a year-on-year rise of about 0.5 per cent in 2019, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). Three-quarters of the emissions were produced by cars, buses, lorries, motorcycles and other road vehicles.

The sector is consequently under considerable scrutiny as administrations around the globe plan their efforts to reduce emissions in accordance with national and international commitments.

The Finnish Government has pledged to halve greenhouse gas emissions from domestic transport by 2030 and eliminate them by 2045. The targets, its three-phase roadmap suggests, are to be met by means such as introducing binding targets for biofuel use and financial incentives for electric vehicle adoption, steering the development of new customer-centric mobility services, and launching projects that encourage walking and cycling.

“Increasing the share of cycling as a part of our daily mobility is one of the key elements of achieving carbon neutrality in transport,” stated Mari Päätalo, project manager at the City of Espoo.

Espoo and LatausPolku, a local developer of safe charging solutions for lithium-ion batteries, revealed early this month they are introducing fireproof charging cabinets for electric bicycles in three transport hubs in the city: A Bloc in Otaniemi, Pikkulaiva in Espoonlahti and Shopping Centre Iso Omena in Matinkylä.

A man with a helmet and backpack standing next to a charging cabinet for e-bike batteries.

Fire-proof charging cabinets for e-bike batteries have been introduced to three transport hubs in Espoo, Southern Finland. Image: Patrik Pesonen / City of Espoo

The cabinets are able to detect and extinguish fires with a patent-pending method developed by the startup, enabling cyclists to re-charge the batteries of their bikes safely while at work, at school or doing the groceries.

Although present-day batteries are protected thoroughly by manufacturers, the risk of spontaneous combustion increases as they age and incur wear and tear, a fact that has been recognised by housing and real estate companies.

“Many housing and real estate companies have prohibited the unsupervised charging of electric bicycle batteries indoors specifically for fire-safety reasons,” told Mikko Pajamies, chief executive of LatausPolku.

A surge of electricity

Plans and solutions supporting the electrification of transport seem to be piling up on numerous drawing boards across Finland.

Sensible 4, the Espoo-based startup known for the self-driving all-weather shuttle bus GACHA, announced last week it has been selected to automate the electric shuttle buses to be rolled out in Europe by China’s Dongfeng Motors.

The startup will be responsible for ensuring the self-driving version of the bus meets the safety and quality requirements in Europe together with T-Engineering, the Swedish subsidiary of Dongfeng Motors. The bus will be operated, without a human driver on board, by the first version of its yet-to-be-released all-weather driving software, Dawn.

“We believe it is a big step for the whole autonomous driving scene to bring this high-quality, mass-produced shuttle bus to the European market,” commented Harri Santamala, chief executive of Sensible 4.

Both Skand and eMabler, meanwhile, have secured funding for their efforts to increase the number of electric vehicles in Finland and Europe.

Skand, a Tampere-based developer of light electric vehicles, announced last week it has raised 845 000 euros to widen its reach, smashing the 300 000-euro target set for the equity funding round on Invesdor. It has also received a loan worth one million euros to support its expansion in Denmark, Germany and Norway.

CEO Miika Utoslahti said in a press release the team are delighted with the number of private investors chipping in and validating the need for light vehicles that support the freedom to move freely and greenly.

Light electric vehicles in a showroom.

Skand’s lightweight plug-in vehicles are marketed as means to help the elderly to move independently and younger urban dwellers to get from one place to another in an eco-friendly way. Image: Skand

“With Skand’s plug-in products, you can move around in big cities and the countryside silently and in an eco-friendly way,” he said. “We strongly believe that electric vehicles capable of being driven year-round are a key solution for big cities with traffic and congestion issues. For more sparsely inhabited areas, having means of moving freely when you want is also vital.”

eMabler said Nidoco and Sofokus Ventures have backed its mission to simplify and streamline charging ecosystems from the perspective of motorists and service providers to the total tune of 630 000 euros.

The Turku-based startup has designed a software-as-a-service platform enabling energy companies, electric vehicle operators, charging infrastructure operators and charge-point manufacturers to integrate charging infrastructure into their existing systems, such as apps, customer platforms and payment solutions.

For motorists, the platform promises to enable the seamless use of charge points of various operators through a single app.

“Electric vehicle charging needs to be as convenient and reliable for the consumer as filling up the tank with fuel,” outlined Juha Stenberg, CEO of eMabler. “Our primary goal is to help our customers improve the user experience of charging, accelerating the electrification of transport.”

Mobility on demand

The evolution of mobility is not driven only by rising environmental awareness and objectives, but also a fairly fundamental change in consumer needs and priorities. Reports in Finland reveal, for example, that fewer and fewer young people are interested in acquiring a driver’s licence as soon as possible, suggesting a growing readiness to rely on public transport, ride-sharing services and other alternatives at least for longer than earlier.

Ensuring various modes of transport can be combined seamlessly has always been a core element of the mission of MaaS Global, one of the global trailblazers in the mobility-as-a-service space.

A woman using a smartphone at an intersection.

MaaS Global believes consumers should be able to freely mix and match various mobility options with a single subscription. Image: Ono Kosuki / Pexels

The Helsinki-based company recently launched its multimodal mobility app, Whim, in Switzerland. The app initially brings electric bicycles and scooters to the fingertips of users in the country, eliminating the need to use various booking and payment systems during the course of a single journey.

The announcement came only days after the startup had reported it has completed its first ever acquisition, taking over Madrid, Spain-based Wondo Mobility, and received a strategic investment from Spain’s Ferrovial.

Sampo Hietanen, chairperson of the board at MaaS Global, estimated that the mobility-as-a-service sector is entering a new phase in its evolution, a phase of consolidation, which should enable the startup to better leverage its competitive edge: the capability to integrate any mode or system of transport, be it a nationwide rail network or a local fleet of electric kick scooters.

“When I say integrate, I refer both to our technological toolbox, which has been developed and tested to handle any interface, and our experience in integrating all of these modalities into one crisp customer-facing app with monthly billing,” he wrote in a blog entry.

“There are more potential integrations in our system than to any other operator in the field.”

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