• International Journal of Technology (IJTech)
  • Vol 12, No 5 (2021)

The Evolution of Smart and Intelligent Mobility – A Semantic and Conceptual Analysis

The Evolution of Smart and Intelligent Mobility – A Semantic and Conceptual Analysis

Title: The Evolution of Smart and Intelligent Mobility – A Semantic and Conceptual Analysis
Pekka Leviakangas, Valtteri Ahonen

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Cite this article as:
Leviakangas, P., Ahonen, V. 2021. The Evolution of Smart and Intelligent Mobility – A Semantic and Conceptual Analysis. International Journal of Technology. Volume 12(5), pp. 1019-1029

Pekka Leviakangas Department of Infrastructure and Transport, University of Oulu, PO Box 4500, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
Valtteri Ahonen Department of Infrastructure and Transport, University of Oulu, PO Box 4500, FI-90014 Oulu, Finland
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The Evolution of Smart and Intelligent Mobility – A Semantic and Conceptual Analysis

Smart or intelligent mobility has been the founding concept to address new technologies needed to develop future transport systems.  The development of intelligent mobility has traditionally been much driven by the automotive industry. Research in this domain has traditionally focused on providing safe, comfortable, and affordable mobility to drivers and passengers. As the awareness of the effects of emissions released to the environment by transportation has been increasingly acknowledged, transport systems have since then expected to be “intelligent” also in terms of sustainability. Furthermore, social issues, such as transport poverty and social exclusion, have emerged as key topics. By performing a bibliometric analysis of scientific literature, reviewing inter-governmental policy documents, and analyzing national (Finland) government programs, this paper shows how there has been a shift of thought at conceptual and semantic levels regarding what we perceive as smart mobility. The findings quite clearly suggest that the policy debate as well as research topics have taken the shift first from traffic safety toward technology orientation, and thereafter further toward a more holistic perception of sustainability. “Inclusiveness” appears to be the latest theme in the transport policy debate at the European Union level, although research on it is still marginal.

Bibliometrics; Intelligent transport; Mobility; Sustainable transport; Transport policy


1.1. How “Intelligent Transport” was First “Safe”

    Mobility is changing, and it is changing at a compelling pace owing to our need to de-carbonize the mobility system and make it more sustainable. Before we were aware of the need for sustainability, we—i.e., the supplying industries, policymakers, planners, service providers, and citizens—only narrowly focused on the technological possibilities offered by digitalization and automation, especially because of the wide-scale adoption of some general-purpose technologies, such as global satellite positioning, light emitting diode (LED) technologies, and wireless communications. Satellite positioning combined with digitalized maps has enabled navigation services. Wireless communications, especially dedicated short-range communication technologies, have enabled road-tolling systems. Moreover, variable message signs have been developed with the help of LED technologies. Internet technologies combined with wireless communications have made public transport ticketing and trip planning easier. These are just samples from a breathtaking list of modern smart mobility applications. The US Department of Transportation published The History of Intelligent Transport Systems (US DOT, 2016), which introduces long-term developments in the US. However, probably the earliest appearances of intelligent transport systems (ITS) can be found in Japan during the 1960s when the Comprehensive Automobile Control System (CACS) was being developed. From the US and Japan, the idea of an ITS spread to Europe. One of the first applications that can be considered as an intelligent transport system is traffic signals. They were first pre-programmed analogically to change lights between green and red, and were later equipped with loop sensors to better adapt the signal controls to the changing patterns of traffic flow. 

    Much of the ITS was driven by the automotive industry, and this took place for obvious reasons. The automotive industry has been, and still partly is, the driving force of the technological development of the transport system. While this may be seen as a one-sided approach that has led to the dominance of private car use, there is a lot we can thank the automotive industry for. The first and foremost thing is safety. Nothing has contributed to traffic safety more than the development of safety technologies by the automotive industry. Today, these technologies are at the core of ITS. Moreover, ITS has developed into an entire industry segment of its own (Leviäkangas, 2013).

    The proof for the aforementioned claim of the automotive industry’s crucial role can be found in statistics. Road traffic accidents have, across the vast majority of European countries, systematically declined for the last two decades, as can be seen in Figure 1. Obviously, infrastructure improvements have been made, but human behavior has been largely unchanged, and 90% of all road accidents occur because of human error (ACEA, 2021). Mostly, vehicle safety technologies eliminate human errors. Overall, the obvious conclusion is that safer vehicles are the primary cause of improved safety, without undermining the importance of infrastructure issues that, especially in developing economies, are probably a far bigger factor contributing to accidents.

Figure 1 Examples of road traffic safety development in Finland, France, Hungary, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. Note that both Lithuania and Hungary joined the European Union (EU) in 2004, after which there was a period of automobile fleets being renewed due to the opening of the Single European Market (OECD, 2020)

1.2. “Sustainable” Mobility

    After the Brundtland report “Our Common Future” (United Nations, 1987) was diffused to the minds of decision-makers, it became evident that ITS need to be intelligent not only in terms of technology but also in terms of sustainability. In other words, the questions of pollution, excessive use of natural resources, and, worst of all, the inevitable climate change, which is already showing its first impacts, became evident. The transport system needs to change so that pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are radically cut and ultimately stopped.

    Today, in Europe, emissions from transport amount to a quarter of the total emissions, as seen in Figure 2. The international shipping and aviation sectors are by far the greatest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions (Figure 3). With these starting points in mind, it is unsurprising that transportation is one of the key sectors to be addressed in terms of sustainability, not least because of the climate challenge.

    However, sustainability addresses many aspects, not just climate and greenhouse gas emissions. Other emissions, such as noise and particles, cause severe health problems (see, e.g., Leviäkangas, 2020). In many European cities, old diesel engines have been recently banned because of aerial particulate emissions, which are particularly harmful to human health. These include, for example, Barcelona, Paris, London, Brussels, Stuttgart, and Milan (however new Euro 6 models are allowed throughout most European cities; Diesel Information Hub, 2021). Lastly, emissions to ground and water include microplastics from tires and toxic heavy particles. All these aforementioned aspects related to sustainability directly affect the cost of transport systems and mobility (Leviäkangas and Hautala, 2011), which makes the sustainability issue a hot topic in science and politics.

Figure 2 Greenhouse gas emissions by sector in the EU in 2018 (Eurostat, 2021)

Figure 3 Greenhouse gas emissions, historical and scenarios, from the transportation sector in EU-27 with existing measures (WEM) and with additional measures (WAM; European Environment Agency, 2021) 

1.3. “Inclusive” Mobility

    The latest attribute of the Smart City concept is probably “inclusiveness.” What does it mean? The World Bank addresses inclusiveness from two directions, which are also part of the bank’s mission. The first motive is reaping the benefits from urbanization. Urban centers are concentrating the population such that by 2050, 70% of the global population is estimated to live in cities, either larger, middle-sized, or smaller. In addition, 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in cities. This means that people in cities are entitled to enjoy the benefits of economic growth, whereas we have seen, especially in mega-cities, that urbanization has brought forth a number of problems, such as social exclusion due to loneliness, lack of social networks, and poverty due to high accommodation prices and living costs (World Bank, 2021). Thus, the second motive springing from Sustainable Development Goal 11 calls for “inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities.” 

    In Europe, inclusiveness also contains social rights and citizens’ engagement aspects. Inclusive cities are seen as those where power-sharing is between city officials, city developers, and the citizens. For example, the city of Turku, the second largest city in Finland, pledges for equal opportunities for all and active support for employment (Eurocities, 2021). The inclusiveness attribute seems to manifest the most recent step as a change in the thinking of the policymakers, from technology orientation to human and social orientation.


For smart or intelligent transport, both research and policymaking are changing. Moreover, the foci of research and policymaking have changed from safety to technology orientation and then to sustainability orientation. The shifts are observable in scientific literature, European policy documents, and national policymaking. The shifts can be timed and summarized as follows:

  • ·  The first shift: traffic safety is surpassed by intelligent transport/mobility around 2005–2010, when intelligent transport systems made their first grand entry, largely driven by the automotive industry and enabled by different market-ready technologies.
  • ·   The second shift was from intelligent transport/mobility to sustainable transport/mobility as climate change became strongly present in sectoral policy agendas; this took place right after the first shift around 2010.
  • ·   The third shift occurred when sustainability came to include more dimensions than just climate change and emission of greenhouse gases; the shift started around 2015 and is probably still ongoing. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals had much to do with this shift.
  • ·      New dimensions of sustainability can be expected to emerge from politics, research, and general societal debate. For example, questions of manageability, ethics, and credibility are predicted to be among the key future attributes for smart mobility systems.

    What is quite interesting and noteworthy is the fact that research (or to be more precise, transport research) did not direct the above-described changes. We are educated to think that research is directing new waves of thinking and public debate, including policymaking, but that does not seem to be a straightforward case. This observation is definitely worth some further analysis and consideration, especially for researchers.


    The anonymous reviewers of The 2nd CSID AUN-SCUD International Conference on Sustainable Infrastructure and Urban Development are gratefully acknowledged for their efforts toward improving this paper. This research has been supported by the European Union H2020 program (AURORAL project, Grant agreement ID: 101016854) (AURORAL, 2021).


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