Last week, Ottopia attended MOVE 2019: Mobility Re-Imagined — a seamlessly organized event with fantastic speakers and companies participating. Here are four takeaways from the inaugural edition.
#1. Britain may be for the Britons (or why autonomous mobility may not be winner-takes-all)
From across the pond, autonomous mobility looks… darker. Rainier. More crowded. Less… orthogonal. Compared to autonomous vehicle (AV) testbeds like Phoenix, AZ, that is indeed how you could describe London. And for some AV companies, this might be a good thing.
Stan Boland –CEO of UK AV company Five.ai– shared a provocative perspective of how the UK and most of Western Europe differ from the cities where large players like Waymo have piloted their AV tech.
The thesis that, fast forward a few years, AV leaders will have competitive moats in certain cities or geographies is not new. But Mr. Boland’s presentation went into insightful specifics.
For most of the year, European cities are much darker than the American Southwest. They also get considerably more precipitation and have narrow streets traversing dense city blocks. All of this can affect vehicle sensing and localization. Different driver behavior across cities is probably also expected. In the case of the British Isles, cars drive on the other side of the road.
Another interesting difference is the polarity of city grids — that is, the orientation of all the streets in a city with respect to each other. (See figure below). Importantly, European street grids have more complex layouts and intersections than American cities. The formers’ layouts hark back to medieval days, while cities throughout the US are younger and were designed around the automobile.
All of this adds up, the head of Five.ai suggests, to a sustained advantage for early winners in geographies with unique challenges. And with team members from Oxbotica –another British AV company– presenting some of their own progress, it appears the race for that early win is on.
It’s too soon to tell how the AV space will play out in the long term, but there is a case to be made for a patchwork of local and regional dominant players claiming their stake over autonomous travel in major cities and markets.
#2. Autonomous mobility is here–if you know where to look
Leading companies in the fixed-route, autonomous shuttle space showcased the increasing headway they’ve made across several geographies. EasyMile, Local Motors, Navya and Ohmio, to name a few, highlighted how a constrained operational design domain (ODD) has led to early deployments and laid the foundations for future growth.
Combined, these companies have launched pilots and operations in dozens of locations, including corporate and university campuses, private communities and mixed-traffic city streets, from Australia and Singapore to Norway and Western Canada.
Another company with a shrewd choice of ODD that is making major strides is Voyage. Oliver Cameron, Voyage’s CEO, expounded on why their partnership with retirement communities holds huge potential. As Mr. Cameron said, these may well be the first communities where autonomous vehicles become the primary (or only?) mode of motorized travel.
Importantly, these companies underscored how much they have learned, and how, with those lessons in hand, they are ready to continue scaling.
#3. Electric micromobility everywhere
Outside of the autonomy-themed presentations, micromobility was the most conspicuous topic — and the hype shows no sign of stopping, Various scooter and e-bike companies showcased their products, explosive growth, and yes, some headwinds and unresolved questions as this mobility segment continues to evolve.
Among the questions raised was the matter of how to keep scooter riders safe as they continue to penetrate city sidewalks — and streets. Whether it’s user education, clear regulation, better infrastructure, or all of the above — one thing was certain: pedestrians, drivers and AV companies should prepare to see more scooters jutting around city centers and suburbs.
#4. Supporting infrastructure is rising to the challenge
Infrastructure, in the broadest sense of the term, is rising to catch up with the early and fast movers in urban mobility. Whether it’s physical, legal, or digital infrastructure, there is a vibrant ecosystem of startups, think tanks, and regulators anticipating the needs of mobility companies and customers.
Re-designed (and dynamically priced) street curbs, “air traffic control” for autonomous fleets, market-making platforms, and huge mobile batteries were all showcased and discussed, as were thoughtful new approaches to urban regulation. This is unlikely to stop, as various players anticipated a new steady state where self-driving cars and electric micro-mobility are commonplace in cities.
In short, London MOVE was a fantastically organized event with great speakers and fruitful discussion. We are looking forward to returning next year. In concert, participants highlighted the progress, and yes, the promise, of future urban mobility. But they also highlighted the complexity –and relentless evolution– in the space.
As the pace of innovation and complexity in urban mobility increase, various AV companies will need new thinking, new solutions and trusted partners. At Ottopia, we are revving our engines to help tackle the challenges that lay ahead.