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Transport - the mobility of the future: efficient, digital, sustainable

In the future, how will we travel from A to B safely, cheaply, and quickly, without causing unnecessary harm to the environment?

One thing is certain: The space available for transport is limited, whether on water, on land, or in the air. The volume of traffic, especially for goods transport, is steadily growing, and with it, the level of pollution. Today, more than a quarter of the EU’s total greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to the transport sector. Traffic jams cause unnecessary exhaust fumes and accidents, while cities are experiencing increasing noise pollution and pressure on space. It will therefore take more than just innovative vehicles and efficient, safe technologies to genuinely transform the transport sector. Integrated transport concepts that offer transport users and businesses intermodal options geared toward sustainability are also required. The impacts of these potential solutions will need to be reliably recorded and projected.

Key research areas

In their work to develop new approaches and solutions for a transport system that is fit for the future and will benefit business, society, and the environment in equal measure, Helmholtz researchers focus on three key areas:

  • In the Transport System research area, we consider all the positive and negative effects of developments in the transport system, from demand and mobility behavior to environmental impacts. We examine the interplay between a wide range of modes of transport, such as trains, cars, walking, and cycling. And finally, we use automation and digitalization technologies to create sustainable mobility concepts.
  • Road transport will remain the dominant mode of transport for the foreseeable future, so it needs to be made safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly. This is the objective of our experts working in the Road Transport research area. They develop innovative concepts for efficient and safe vehicles with alternative drives using modern, lightweight designs and explain how these “next-generation cars” can be integrated into the transport system as effectively as possible. We envisage the car of the future not only being climate friendly but also communicating with other means of transport, understanding which route is the fastest and most energy-efficient, and following it autonomously.
  • In the Rail Transport research area, we look for solutions for sustainable and advanced train travel. We therefore want to make this mode of transport even more efficient, attractive, and economical. With our “next-generation train” concept, we are further developing the vehicle in terms of aerodynamics, hybrid drives, and lightweight construction, and embedding it in a highly efficient public transport system. Other approaches include the railcars of the future being virtually coupled while the train is in motion and then automatically separated again. This will make better use of the rail infrastructure and reduce transport times. Our goal is to ensure that the potential of digitalization is fully exploited on the rails too.


  • To support the transformation of the transport sector, we develop new approaches and solutions for a sustainable transport system with fewer accidents, traffic jams, and delays, less noise pollution, and lower CO2 emissions.
  • In the research program, we analyze transport trends affecting the roads, rail network, and urban areas. We use models to explore the interplay between modes of transport, including walking and cycling.
  • We carry out research into new concepts for the cars, trucks, and trains of the future, the use of renewable energy, and opportunities to network vehicles and transport infrastructures intelligently.  
  • Digitalization to control transport systems more efficiently and automate vehicles safely will play a key role in the future.
  • With 26 institutes contributing their expertise to the transport research program, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is the second largest transport research organization in Europe. The program is part of a network comprising numerous other DLR institutes, Helmholtz Centers, and national and international partners who are also involved in researching transport issues.

Christian Sattler

Program spokesperson Transport
German Aerospace Center

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