From mobility to smart working: the future is digital

From mobility to smart working: the future is digital

The pandemic has accelerated a number of digitalization processes that were already underway and created new habits that will be long-lasting. Digitalization expert Prof. Irene Bertschek shares her vision.

Artificial intelligence will be crucial for the evolution of the mobility sector, and some of the digital solutions introduced during the Covid-19 pandemic may turn out to be long-lasting. That sums up the view of Prof. Irene Bertschek, head of the “Digital Economy” research area at the ZEW - Leibniz Center for European Economic Research in Mannheim, one of Europe’s leading economic research institutes.

Prof. Bertschek highlights how the process of digitalization was already underway in many industries even before Coronavirus. IT services and financial service providers, for example, already have a great deal of digital experience. The automotive industry is also undergoing a period of great change and uses highly automated work processes that – under current conditions – can make it easier for people to maintain physical distancing.

Digitalization is global

Digitalization is also spreading to many other industries. Take the construction industry, for example: to date digitization has been limited to electronic invoicing, even though there are sophisticated software solutions for planning and managing buildings.

“In general, small and medium-sized companies are the ones lagging behind, because often they are yet to understand how important and diverse digitalization is”, emphasizes Prof. Bertschek. “Some carpenters think: I can’t build my furniture digitally. Of course not – but they could present it digitally and thus be visible on the global market. Digitalization affects everyone. Most large companies have understood this”.

Artificial intelligence

“We live in a platform economy: US companies, such as Amazon, Google and Facebook, are indeed far ahead – as are their Chinese counterparts, Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu. For European companies, that train has already departed. However, in contrast, Europe is in a good position in terms of Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence. This is shown by the number of patent applications”, explains Prof. Bertschek.

How can this potential be best exploited in the field of mobility? AI, for example, will be able to optimize traffic flows by receiving and evaluating large amounts of data from different sources – including vehicles, infrastructure and the weather – and calculating the best routes to avoid congestion.


Prof. Irene Bertschek, head of the “Digital Economy” research area at the ZEW

The city of the future

“My dream is a car-free city centre with perfect integration across all means of transport. At its heart would be a digital platform providing people with relevant information at all times in a user-friendly way”, says Prof. Bertschek, imagining a scenario made up of electric buses, e-bikes and other forms of micromobility, all connected digitally. “Cities would be more habitable and sustainable”.

Digitalization also makes a large number of journeys avoidable given that many jobs can be carried out remotely and most shopping can be done online. Even some doctor’s appointments can be conducted remotely. Such digital solutions can help to maintain rural areas as places to live and work, without having to make sacrifices.


However, an analysis of infrastructure within Europe reveals clear disparities between countries. In some nations, over 90% of families have an ultra-fast Internet connection with at least 100 Mbit/s. In others, the situation is worse.

“For many companies this is a serious weakness, because without a good digital infrastructure it is difficult to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Cloud Computing, Big Data, artificial intelligence, and Industry 4.0. We need a nationwide fibre optic network and powerful cellular networks to support autonomous driving, for example”. adds Prof. Bertschek. She concludes by looking ahead to what will come after the pandemic: “Some things will go back to the way they were before because humans are social beings and need physical contact. But where digital solutions bring advantages, they will continue to be used: home offices, video conferences and online commerce will play a greater role than they did before the pandemic”.

Source: Volkswagen AG 

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