One of the industries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic is, without question, the transportation sector. Airlines have been forced to shut down most of the major routes, metro stations operate with limitations, and using public transport makes us pretty anxious overall. This has led many researchers, leaders and business leaders to ask the question: how should we rethink our future?
A convincing response was formulated by Denis Sverdlov, the Russian founder of the UK-based company Arrival. Already very popular in the electric vehicle sector, the firm has designed buses that promise not only to reduce our carbon emissions, but also to protect passengers by incorporating social distancing measures inside vehicles.
So how does it work ?
Announced in June, the Arrival bus is designed with a modular interior to allow passengers to adhere to protective measures during their journey and to minimize the risk of contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus.
Adapting the number of passengers and the space between them is the key to the approach and this is what sets the Arrival bus apart from other vehicles. The seats can be adjusted to different configurations to provide additional space between passengers, or even be removed entirely. A series of plexiglass barriers provide additional protection, as do non-contact systems that notify drivers that a stop has been requested. The bus is also expected to have seamless seats, which helps to clean and sanitize the interior more effectively.
This flexibility is a major asset because, if restrictions ease in Russia and around the world, some social distancing measures could be maintained until 2021 or even 2022.
But even without taking the virus into account, there are a number of features that really make Arrival’s vehicle the bus of the future. For example, it will be equipped with intelligent technology allowing passengers to choose their stop using their smartphone (even before getting into the vehicle). They will also be able to see how many people are on the bus, which will allow them to choose between getting on or waiting for the next one.
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Although he currently lives in London, Arrival founder Denis Sverdlov has had a long and successful career in Russia. In 2007, he co-founded Yota, which was one of the first providers of high-speed mobile internet. A crucial step was to develop the country’s first 4G network, starting in provincial capitals like Kazan, Novosibirsk and Krasnodar in 2011, before expanding to the capital. Soon after, Sverdlov sold the company to famous Russian billionaire Alicher Ousmanov for around $ 1.5 billion and went to work in government, until he reached the post of deputy minister of communications.
This political activity was short-lived, however, as new regulations introduced in 2013 required civil servants, as well as their families, to close their foreign bank accounts and give up their assets located outside the country. Preferring business to his political career, Sverdlov moved to London and eventually founded Arrival in 2015.
Arrival had relatively humble beginnings. Its original mission was to create low-emission electric vans that could be used inside cities on short routes for messaging purposes. It has since grown into a company of over 800 employees with development centers in the US, UK, Germany, Russia and Israel.
Prior to the summer’s bus announcement, Arrival made waves in January, when it was announced that its first vans would hit the streets of Paris, London and various US cities by the end of 2020 – this in doing so, the company has gained the support of several large investors.
Sverdlov was the sole shareholder until 2020, but in January he was joined by manufacturing giants Hyundai and Kia, giving Arrival a new lease of life with a valuation of $ 3.3 billion. Shortly afterwards, the delivery company UPS decided to order 10,000 electric vans from it in order to compete with online retail giant Amazon. Amazon recently bought 100,000 electric vans from Rivian, an American automaker, triggering what could be the equivalent of an “arms race” in green vehicles. And Sverdlov is determined to use it to propel his company to new technological heights …
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Sverdlov’s success opens up access to the electric vehicle market around the world; an increasingly popular trend, with “green” vehicles gaining momentum as the climate movement continues to assert itself as the mainstream. Creating vehicles that will help us navigate a future marked by pandemics, like the Arrival bus, will only increase the reach and relevance of the company.
But as the electric vehicle market grows, there are a number of hurdles that pioneers like Sverdlov still have to overcome in Russia.
It’s not that the Russian market is foreign to electric cars: billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov presented the “Yo-mobile” in 2010, which garnered more than 210,000 pre-orders and even benefited from a highly publicized test drive from Vladimir Putin in person. But the 2014 crisis passed by, forcing the company to close its doors, and the electricity market is still struggling to raise its head. According to the analysis agency Autostat, in 2019, only 353 electric cars were sold nationwide – sales of gasoline cars, for comparison, reached 1.72 million units. The United States, China and Europe are offering tax relief programs to encourage the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles, and a similar program is being discussed in the Duma (lower house of the Russian Parliament). But, for the moment, no concrete support has yet been implemented.
This does not mean, however, that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Hyundai, one of Arrival’s investors, is working on the development of driverless cars with Russian tech giant Yandex, and Sverdlov continues to work on bringing its new vehicles to the market. Perhaps the pandemic will speed up the process, as its integrated social-distancing buses offer a local solution to an international health crisis – and little icing on the cake, Arrival says its buses will cost the same as its traditional gas-powered counterparts.
In this other publication, we present the metro trains of the future imagined by Russian designers.
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