The future of mobility: an interview with Erik Tempelman

What will transportation look like in the future? Will self driving cars be mainstream, or will we have moved on to flying cars? Erik Tempelman, associate professor Design Engineering at Technical University of Delft and ambassador of the sector Mobility at Material Xperience paints a picture of his vision of the future of mobility for us in this interview! Click here for a free entry ticket for Material Xperience!

How will we transport ourselves in 100 years, if it were up to you?
In 100 years, we will mostly transport ourselves with automated transport. Driving yourself will be more like a hobby. Aside from automated cars, busses trams, and trains, we will also keep cycling, especially with an electric motor. In fact, this will probably become the standard, except perhaps for sport and racing.

Transport in the air keeps increasing, so it is important to aim for sustainability. I don’t think flying cars will be successful. We mostly live in cities and too close together. Flying in free air has long since been automated, but flying in between buildings is harder than you’d think. Of course, as a challenge it is fantastic to work on. For instance the Dutch PAL-V, the Personal Air and Land Vehicle, is quite an accomplishment.

Finally, transportation by sea. I’m not sure how we will transport ourselves in 100 years, but it is clear it has to be cleaner, and it can be cleaner. One example is automated sailing ships. The Laddermill, a hypothetical airborne wind turbine consisting of a long string or loop of power kites, by the late Professor Wubbo Ockels also has real potential. After all, we have transported ourselves using wind for centuries! That has to work better than the diesel we use now.

What do you think is the best invention ever and why?
The best invention in the mobility sector is the bicycle. It is a wonderful, clean vehicle that doesn’t go as fast as to pose a danger, but also not as slow as to be impractical. We will have to get used to electrically supported cycling, because it goes faster. But that will happen, and then I will be able to use my recumbent bicycle without startling people!

What are the most important material innovations within your sector and why?
Looking at the automotive sector, it is clear that steel remains the most important material. Of course, for years, people have been looking at other materials, such as composites (like in the BMW i3) or biobased materials (like the Lina car), but innovations in steel keep happening. In fact, in my professional opinion, there is no constructive material as innovative as steel! During my lifetime, steel has more than doubled in strength, while the price has remained low. And don’t forget that the production becomes increasingly clean, like the Hisarna pilot factory in IJmuiden (the Netherlands). I’m certain we’re still living in the steel age!

With which other sector is your sector related most or is the most cross-pollination when it comes to material innovation?
The most material innovation takes place when material people work together with product designers, like we did in the EU project Light.Touch.Matters. In this project, we developed smart materials that are sensitive to touch, luminescent, and flexible. At Material Xperience, René de Vries from Aito-Touch will show an interesting version of this. It is important to connect material innovation with the world of design. Only then the practical integration and production questions become clear. In addition, designers are usually better at seeing the value of new materials than scientists.

Materia aims to connect various parties. Which other person or party do you think people should get to know and why?
In both my professional and personal opinion, the industrial designer or graphic designer should not work with new materials by themselves, but they have to work together with a production party. How do I shape the material with the desired result? And the other way around: doesn’t the production process suggest a different, much better form than what the designer had in mind? In material innovation, you ignore the production process at your own risk. This is the main theme in my book Manufacturing and Design, and I will elaborate on it during my lecture.

Erik Tempelman at Material Xperience
Erik is the ambassador of the sector Mobility at Material Xperience. Together with Materia, he has put together an exhibition with some of the most interesting projects within the mobility sector. Want a sneak peek of what to expect? Click here.

Tuesday 13 March, Erik will hold a lecture in which he talks about the past, present and future of materials in the mobility sector! For the full lecture programme, click here.

About Erik Tempelman
Dr Erik Tempelman has been working with design, innovation and materials for more than 20 years, both in industrial and academic settings. Recently completed projects include the Nature Inspired Design collaboration and the EU-funded Light.Touch.Matters project. He is also known for his work on manufacturing and design, together with Cambridge University and Studio Ninaber.

An eclectic scholar, Tempelman has published on a variety of subjects, e.g. on the eco-impact of automotive materials and on lightweight design; he is also a regular contributor to the annual Constructeursdag.

As ambassador at MX, Tempelman strives to showcase the tremendous improvements that automotive materials have made over the past decades, and explain why such innovations matter.