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Pictures of the Future



Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Werner-von-Siemens-Straße 1
80333 Munich

Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Urban Mobility

Scenario 2040: Worlds Apart

China, 2040: In a Chinese metropolis with a population of 25 million people, young Li leaves the ultramodern part of the city to spend a day in the harmonious green oasis where his grandfather Jun Yang lives, 40 kilometers away. On the way to this peaceful enclave, Li uses several modes of transportation that are networked with one another. His flexible tablet PC reliably shows him the way to this haven of unaccustomed calm.

A Chinese megacity in 2040. Li is visiting his grandfather Jun, who lives in an oasis of peace on the edge of this ultramodern metropolis of 25 million people. Two worlds exist in parallel in the same city - acceleration meets tranquility, and living for tomorrow contrasts with living in the Present.

Li is sitting in the jungle and drinking a cup of tea. The calls of countless exotic birds resonate through dense undergrowth and mingle with a Mozart symphony playing discreetly in the background. A huge butterfly lands on the paper-thin tablet PC Li is holding in his lap like a newspaper. The young businessman shoos the butterfly away and concentrates once more on his online contacts. A short time later he is distracted again when a uniformed waiter comes by and offers him pastries. Li declines the offer and briefly taps his tablet with a fingertip. The device automatically connects with the waiter’s smartphone and pays the bill within seconds — including a generous tip. “Thank you very much, sir,” says the guest worker from Europe, bowing deeply.

Li sighs. He would have liked to go on working here in the café of the tropical garden on the 50th floor of Tiger Tower, but he has arranged to meet his old-fashioned grandfather, who lives in a remote neighborhood located 40 kilometers from the center of this metropolis of 25 million. Li stands up, rolls up his tablet, and follows a carefully raked path that meanders through the flowers and leaves toward the exit. An unobtrusive door between two hibiscus bushes leads to a glass elevator on the outside of Tiger Tower that offers a view of the real world. There are skyscrapers as far as the eye can see. Some of them are covered with vegetation that resembles a living carpet, while others have gardens on their roofs. Between the buildings, countless cars roll along an extensive road network while suspension trains whoosh above them on delicate playscaffolding. Li leaves the perfect illusion of an exotic garden behind him and steps into the elevator. He pulls out his tablet, looks at the hustle and bustle below, and feels his pulse accelerating again. He breathes a sigh of relief — he’s slowly returning to his normal operating speed.

Two worlds in a megacity of 25 million people: one characterized by haste, the other by tranquility

Here, between traditional one-storey houses, small green gardens, and narrow alleys, an oasis of peace and harmony has established itself. In the past hundred years the neighborhood has not changed substantially, whereas the city around it has continuously grown at a rapid pace. Over the years, city planners have focused their attention on the expansion of the modern parts of the city; then too, perhaps there was no money left over for developing this small neighborhood. For his part, Jun believes that the municipal authorities have simply forgotten this collection of old “huts” — but that’s all to the good, in his opinion. After all, he doesn’t want all that much to do with the hectic outside world. Inside his hut, the tea kettle starts to whistle. Jun blinks contentedly in the sunlight, lights a cigarette, and takes a puff before disappearing inside. He’s got time — so much time.

While Jun smokes and his tea kettle steams, Li’s patience is being tested. He has been stuck in traffic for a half-hour, even though his mobility app had shown him the fastest route to his grandfather’s home. The software had initially directed him to the next station of the magnetic levitation train. Li had sat down in a comfortable seat and used the time in the train to hold a short video conference via his tablet. Like most of his age-mates, Li knows traditional offices only from history books. In his world, the boundaries between work and leisure are fluid; for the city’s young people, flexibility and networking have long been an essential aspect of life.

Following the instructions shown on his tablet, Li had then exited the train and climbed onto an electric bicycle that his app had rented for him. He had enjoyed a pleasant ride through the city park, thus avoiding the traffic on the ring roads. At the park’s exit a reserved electric car had been waiting for him so that he could drive the last few kilometers to his grandfather’s home.

Li switches on the automatic pilot and lets his electric car manage the traffic independently

According to his mobility app, this would be the fastest way to get there, because the city government had obviously forgotten to provide the old neighborhood with a metro station. However, while planning the route the smart software had not foreseen the stray dog that had caused an accident just before Li got to his destination. Li switches on the automatic pilot and lets his electric car manage the stop-and-go traffic independently. He’d like to take advantage of the delay to do just a bit more work. “Carpe diem,” he murmurs as he unrolls his tablet.

Meanwhile, a few kilometers away, Jun has finally managed to make a pot of fresh tea. He pours a cup for himself and sits down on a bench outside his house. Jun is looking forward to seeing his grandson, even though he thinks the boy is constantly stressed out, and he therefore is worried about Li’s health. Ironically, it was Li who persuaded him to use a digital medical assistant, which he now constantly wears on his arm like a wristwatch. The device monitors his pulse, pressure, and other medical parameters in real time and automatically alerts Jun’s doctor if there’s any sign of a health risk. Jun stands up and uses his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. An electric car is softly whirring as it rolls down the street. In it sits his grandson, busily typing on his tablet PC while the automatic pilot steers the vehicle.

A bizarrely slowed-down world

Li looks around nervously. He feels as though someone had stepped on an invisible brake pedal. Only a short time ago he was in the hustle and bustle of the big city, but now he’s suddenly in a bizarrely slowed-down world. To him, this decelerated and silent world seems oppressive. He pulls himself together and greets his grandfather, who guides him to the bench and offers him a cup of tea. “You look pale,” Jun remarks after a while. “Maybe you should move in with me and leave all that mad rush behind you.”

Li swallows and breaks into a sweat. He lights up one of Jun’s cigarettes and inhales hastily. “With all the stress you have to endure, smoking is doubly unhealthy,” old Jun warns him. Smiling mischievously, he says, “I’ve got a present for you,” and slips his medical wristwatch over his hand. “I think you ought be wearing this. I’m convinced that you need it more than I do.”

Florian Martini