1616: Thejo Kote

Thejo Kote is the co-founder and CEO of Automatic. He subscribed to FoT in March 2015.

1) What change do you want to see in the world of mobility by the end of 2016?

The automotive industry moves too slowly to affect any substantive change by the end of next year — that’s just the nature of a legacy hardware business that keeps its software on lockdown. But the technology to make iterative but significant improvements to driver behavior, driver safety, and vehicle compliance already exists. It’s just a matter of commitment and implementation.

If there’s anything to be learned from the recent Volkswagen scandal, it’s that emissions compliance can’t be left to automakers, legislators, and testing companies. The ability to remotely keep tabs on vehicle efficiency and emissions isn’t a lofty goal — it’s achievable with existing technology. And it’s inexpensive to boot.

Using the onboard diagnostics port, a mobile phone, and a data connection, we can find out exactly how a vehicle is performing in a range of conditions, and do it all in real-time. If an anomaly — or worse — is discovered, the data can be transmitted instantaneously to alert both the driver and any governing body. Over time, patterns will emerge, problems identified, and fixes deployed. And all it takes is a willingness on the part of both automakers and owners to strive to do better.

This same technology could have a more immediate impact on driver safety by reducing the number of people who are seriously injured or die in car crashes when help doesn’t arrive in time.

Between the onboard diagnostic data and the ubiquity of accelerometers built into smartphones, we can detect if a significant crash has taken place that could result in injuries, alerting first responders and emergency services more quickly and efficiently. Some automakers already provide this, but the fact that it hasn’t been standardized — or required by law, like seat belts, airbags, ABS, traction control, and soon, back-up cameras — isn’t just shortsighted, it’s negligent.

If the technology exists to save lives — both in the short-term (crashes) and long-term (emissions) — and we don’t make the effort to implement it across the broadest swath possible, we’re not living up to our potential and embracing our abilities. They may be small, iterative improvements, but the outcomes could be revolutionary.

2) If you had to drop everything right now and build something that had the greatest impact on mobility, what would it be?

The obvious answer is self-driving vehicles. Nothing will have a greater impact on transportation and mobility than the proliferation of autonomous cars. And there is so much work to do.

People tend to significantly overestimate how quickly we’ll reach full autonomy, but at the same time, they also significantly underestimate the impact these vehicles will have on nearly every aspect of society.

While we’re still decades away from unmanned robocars roaming the streets, the evolution of advanced driver aids are already giving us a glimpse of what’s in store. These are the next waypoints in the roadmap towards a crash-free world, and nothing excites me more than the technology that will help enable that future.

Thejo Kote Bio
Thejo is the co-founder and CEO of connected car startup Automatic.

1616 is a compendium of ideas from 16 FoT subscribers about our near-term mobility future. You can read all 16 entries here; you can sign up for FoT here.