Five years ago, when we began to collaborate with thought leaders from the University of Michigan and industry to explore the future of mobility, it felt as if we were creating a new language. Back then, the term “mobility” was more synonymous with one’s physical abilities than it was to transportation. And the idea of a “sharing economy” was questioned as just another shiny object for millennials. Not to mention the technologies driving these conversations. Would autonomous vehicles ever move out of the realm of science fiction? And, of most interest to us in Michigan, what were the implications for the future of the automotive industry, and the tens of thousands of inventors and innovators here who have a stake in its future?
Looking back, I’d say we’ve come a long way from the first Advanced Mobility Project conference, “Beyond the Connected Car,” hosted by Autobeat Group at NextEnergy in February 2014. Perhaps nothing illustrates this point more clearly than the evolution of the content and exhibits at both CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) and NAIAS (the North American International Auto Show) from a focus on the “old-school” automotive world, to the technologies, products and services driving new mobility.
In 2014, the big auto presence at CES was characterized by Audi’s unveiling of laser diodes for high beam lights, and Pebble’s announcement of the Pebble Smart Watch with metal buttons. By 2015, The Internet of Things (IoT) was being used to describe the interoperability of connected devices and Samsung introduced their SmartHub. Wearables such as smart watches and health trackers were all the rage, and every auto maker at the show was demonstrating some aspect of the future of connected, autonomous driving. Of course, in 2015 the autonomous driving technologies were pretty limited compared to what is possible today—parking assist and object recognition– but they were pointing to a future that was less focused on the car, and more focused on mobility options that fit with the consumers’ real life. Just the fact that the automotive industry was visibly more present and attracting more attention at CES is evidence of the shift in the automotive industry. It was becoming clearer that cars represent the single biggest consumer electronics product purchase, but the product life cycle and positioning of cars as “consumer electronics products” was challenging. Adapting automotive industry models to meet consumer desires for better mobility options that incorporate consumer preferences has been, and continues to be, both a challenge and an opportunity for the industry.
Fast forward to 2018 NAIAS, and the expanded focus on AutoMobili-D. Not only is the quintessential event chock full of automotive offerings from around the world featuring beautiful design aesthetics, power train innovations designed for the transition to an electrified future, and integrated technologies to support connected, autonomous driving, but, in the AutoMobili-D exhibition, there is a whole floor of start-ups and university teams, as well as a five-day program convening thought leaders representing the future of the mobility industry.
So, back to defining the term advanced, or new mobility. What does it really represent? To me it represents the host of new businesses springing up around automotive to enable the solutions that will more effectively and efficiently move people, goods and services. In the 20th century, the automotive industry drove the creation of a number of related businesses: fueling stations, service stations, collision shops, dealer networks, car washes, garage door openers, towing, parking, even curb service drive-ins and drive through restaurants.
The 21st century mobility industry is creating businesses like autonomous traffic controllers (1.21Gigawatts); open API platforms to support EV smart charging and point of sale communications with consumers as they charge (EcoG); on board diagnostic tools to make sure that the car is operating as it should in the connected, autonomous world (Acerta, CarServ and CARFIT); AI based software platforms to support autonomous driving and safety alerts (Derq, iSEE, Haas Alert), passenger monitoring systems to measure vehicle occupancy and passengers vital signs (Caaresys); driver assist software tools that enable end-to-end trips, including the ability to pay for each piece of the trip (Make MY Day, Parkbob, Parkofon, PayBySky), and of course plenty of ride share/vehicle share options that focus on the needs of specific groups (GoKid, Pablito, GridWise, Wheeli, Carma, SoftBit Technologies), as well as non-auto based mobility options. In addition to these “mobility” companies, there are many others busy inventing and supplying the technologies that go into connected, autonomous, electrified vehicles – including battery technologies, advanced materials, sensors and controls, Lidar, Radar, power electronics, AI and machine learning algorithms.
Just based on this year’s CES and NAIAS alone, it’s clear that “mobility” as we have defined it is a trend that is here to stay, and that Michigan, with its strong ecosystem of support, is poised to be a center for invention and innovation that will continue to drive the future of how we live and move.