Next Gen Transportation

Toyota Concept Autonomous Vehicle at CES

Quick confession: I’ve had a draft blog post for the last 2 months that just keeps getting longer and keeps being unpublished. When I grow up, I want to be like Roger C Lanctot who cranks out several rich blog posts per week. Anyways, I decided to break mine up into “bite sized” pieces, here is part 1.

Today, when we take a bus or train, we are all sharing a public “people mover” that runs a fixed route. For the most part, this works, sort of. Our buses and trains are heavily subsidized and sometimes unreliable. I used to live in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona where public transportation was horrible, so it was rarely used and everyone drove cars. If you don’t believe me, check out this quick 4 hr hop between two regional airports in the Phoenix metro area.

In fact, many western US cities are so large and spread out that traditional public transportation is just not viable. Well, now our cities are overcrowded with horrendous traffic and soon car ownership and commuting will not be viable.

I am guessing in 10 years from now, we will all be sharing a public a new form of public transportation that will include autonomous vehicles along with autonomous buses and trains. The big, huge difference with the autonomous vehicles will be “first and last mile” pickups and drop-offs, also the convenience to request a pickup when it’s convenient for your schedule. Side perks will likely include your Spotify playlist already queued up, your favorite beverage already prepared and the climate control set to your preference. For those in the workforce, these will also be mobile offices equipped with connectivity and of course, many power outlets for our devices.

One of the many challenges that we’ll need to solve is utilization. More specifically, optimizing utilization. This will be important to make sure autonomous transportation is safe, efficient and affordable. A great example of this is the commercial airline industry.

I know we’ve all had a flight cancelled or delayed. We tend to forget the majority of the flights we take are on time with absolutely no issues. And also quite affordable. Why? The commercial airline industry has come close to mastering utilization. Airline companies that didn’t understand this don’t exist anymore, or have been acquired and absorbed. Utilization in the airline industry means efficiency and profits, and goes way beyond filling up seats on a plane. Think about cargo, fuel, luggage, amenities (beverages and food), employees and even the gates available at any given airport at any given time. Unlike a vehicle, you can’t just find an empty space to park your Boeing 787. So the airline industry has a fantastic mastery of each of it’s assets and how to best use them. Check out the data if you’re a skeptic: http://web.mit.edu/airlinedata/www/Aircraft&Related.html

The majority of us fly and depend on commercial. For the purposes of this blog, I’m just going to ignore the ultra rich who can afford private jets. So for the normal people, we depend on a shared service and shared aircraft to move us from airport to airport. And this is only affordable and reliable with near mastery of utilization and logistics from those that operate the service.

My thesis is that ground based transportation via autonomous vehicles will need to adopt this same utilization model. In this model, the majority of us don’t own vehicles anymore. Who’s going to miss insurance premiums and getting transmissions replaced?? (rhetorical question) The total cost of owning a vehicle ranges from $750 — $1000 per month, and the vehicle sits there for 95% of the time. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? Some cities already have great public transport and if you live in one of those cities, you may disagree with my entire take. But many cities are far away from this and I’m not certain local governments will solve this problem.

In order to optimize utilization, you have to have data. Big data. A lot of data. You need to understand location, time, availability. You need to track inventories, you need to understand every parking space and every hazard. You need to have an ultra high fidelity map of everywhere someone needs to be transported. I’m hoping you’ll stick around for part 2, and I promise it won’t take 2 months. (Please give me feedback)