Our April Autotech Council meeting was on the subject of cross section of Mobility and transport Fleets and CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electrified.) Fleets are an age-old idea, but their uses have expanded recently. Where formerly fleets were public transit, corporate-owned, rental cars, transport, and logistics, today we're seeing the growth of Car Sharing, micro-mobility, and new kinds of vehicles.
We held the meeting in a virtual setting, which caused some problems at the beginning, so we apologize for that, and thank the attendees for sticking with us through the delays.
In my introduction to the meeting, I noted that I thought that "C" (Connectivity) drove the emergence of fleets like Uber or Lime. Those, in turn, bumped up the "S" (Sharing) element. "E (Electrification) is coming along nicely in cars, but also was essential to the rise of the scooter sharing. Meanwhile, "A" (autonomy) was pulling up the rear, with some progress, but little in terms of hard results on public roads. Importantly, though, each of the four letters is barely in its infancy. And as each one develops, the impact on how we move about will be huge. Fleets will increase in importance, vis a vis the alternative of privately-owned transportation. Here's my take on which each of the letters will bring, as it develops:
- Current (3G or 4G) connectivity actually brings a lot of the value of connected car. The problem here is penetration. Metcalfe's Law states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users in a network. It means the value of one walkie-talkie is very low, but it increases a lot as there are more users you can talk with. For cars, as more and more get connected, we'll be able to get V2V, V2i, map, obstacle, incident updates. We'll be able to dynamically assign lanes, and eventually completely erase the concept of lanes, stop lights, signs. OK, that's a ways off.
- Autonomy is barely present, but it's weakness isn't penetration, but ability. The real objective with A is to eliminate the job of "driver", whether that's in your personal car, or in a shared or fleet vehicle. Eliminating that job, or passing it to software, eliminates the variable cost. By lowering the cost of an autonomous car, the usage will increase. Fully-autonomous robo-taxis or shared pods will disrupt the market for private cars by offering a competitive price to the end users.
- Sharing is an essential element. As I discussed in the meeting, urbanization has pushed road capacity beyond usable limits, so we all sit in traffic far too much, polluting, and wasting time. If we don't find ways to solve mobility AND congestion both, we're going to fail. Sharing quickly addresses this, by simply putting more passengers in the same vehicle. Of course, many are resistant to go from the highly private and personalized experience of their private car to a shared cabin. Cost may lure some people over, though, because with sharing, of course you "split the bill". But public policy might also provide a stick: preferential lanes are already ubiquitous, and we're starting to see congestion tolls, EV-only areas, pedestrian zones, higher parking pricing, and parking space reductions as policy choices to "nudge" people out of the private car. For now, most of the sharing we think of is done in essentially family cars, driven by Uber or Lyft. But the future will have some task-specific vehicles, that take some of the aspects of a bus, some of a car, some of a taxi, and the modularity of a Swiss Army Knife.
- Electrification will play its biggest role in reducing pollution, followed by noise reduction, and a shift towards renewable energy. But the combo of E and A also enables a simplified vehicle, often called a "skateboard" onto which many cabins or modules can be fitted - permanently or interchangeably. The simpler construction (fewer parts) will mean easier access for new market entrants and innovators, and the higher reliability of EVs will make them better for fleets, where OpEx is as important as CapEx.
So, bringing it back to our meeting, we kicked it off with Jeffrey Hannah of SBD Automotive research, who gave us a lay of the land, but also a view into how things might look in the near-term future. Jeffrey sees a rise in fleeting, and a much improved user experience, but also business opportunities. Our Keynote speech, from Anne-Elise Chung of Formation Design Group, gave us a futuristic look at how the interiors of fleet mobility vehicles might be designed. Taking cues from airplane interiors, Anne-Elise showed us some interestingly flexible concepts. Once we get out the passenger car mold of four-seats-one-steering-wheel, new opportunities emerge for interesting, useful, and pleasant spaces.
Our panel with Henry Bzeih, Senior Director, Business Strategy, Automotive at Microsoft; Mark Thomas, VP of Marketing and Alliances at Ridecell; and Julie Wright, Senior Solution Architect at Volvo got into a discussion of CASE for fleets and shared mobility. One of the interesting topics was the impact of COVID19 - but really the change in people's consciousness of germs. There are short-term impacts, of course, but also long-term design implications not just for the design of the individual vehicle, but of systems, towns, planes, buses, and public transit in general. How do we get people on a subway, safely, and feeling safe?
From there, we went to our always-excellent Rapid Fire sessions, with presentations from seven innovative companies in the sector. Thanks, as always to the presenters. If you would like to contact any of them, just let us know, and we'll do the introduction. The topics discussed were:
- Human Interaction
- EV marketplace
- driver monitoring
- fleet operations
- fleet security
And a thanks to our Member Panel, who were responsible for interactive Q&A of the Rapid Fire presentations, Dennis Liu, Associate Director at Ford Research & Innovation Center, Neda Blocho, Head of Avanta Studios at Avanta Ventures, Dr. Yvonne Lutsch, Investment Principal at Bosch. We try to keep our meetings interactive and good for professional networking, even if we're constrained by the pandemic, and the Member's Panel helps us do that, while keeping the Zoom meeting organized, too.
At the tail end of our meeting Ridecell hosted a breakout room for anyone interested in seeing a demo of their solutions for Car Sharing, Ridesharing, and Fleet Ops. Some 50 people joined in the drop-in room, while we wrapped up with an informal conversation in the main room. Thanks to everyone who joined, those who contributed, and those who will follow-up with the presenters. Stay healthy out there, and we hope to see you all in person later in the year.
Presentations from today's meeting are available to members in the Member Library.