In The Remaking of Transportation, futurist and author Trond Arne Undheim interviews special guest Evangelos Simoudis, technologist, investor and author of the new book Transportation Transformation: How Autonomous Mobility Will Fuel New Value Chains (2020). These show notes have time stamps where available.
Evangelos Simoudis is a recognized expert on next-generation mobility, artificial intelligence and big data, and corporate innovation. He has been working in Silicon Valley for 30 years as a venture investor, senior advisor to global corporations and governments, entrepreneur, corporate executive, and technologist. He is co-founder and managing director of Synapse Partners, a firm that invests in early-stage startups developing enterprise software AI applications, and advises global corporations on AI. Evangelos is the author of “The Big Data Opportunity in Our Driverless Future” and the recently published “Transportation Transformation”. Evangelos is a member of Caltech’s advisory board, the advisory board of Brandeis International School of Business, the advisory board of the US Department of Transportation’s Connected Cities for Smart Mobility Center, and the advisory board of Securing America’s Future Energy. He has served on several commissions and task forces focusing on artificial intelligence, autonomous mobility, and corporate innovation. He earned a Ph.D. in computer science (machine learning) from Brandeis University and a B.S. in electrical engineering from Caltech.
- Evangelis Simoudis LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/evangelossimoudis/
- Evangelos Simoudis Twitter (esimoudis): https://twitter.com/esimoudis
- Brandeis International School of Business: https://www.brandeis.edu/global/
- Connected Cities for Smart Mobility Center http://c2smart.engineering.nyu.edu/
- Securing America’s Future Energy: https://secureenergy.org/
- Caltech: https://www.caltech.edu/
New mobility (00:02:41)
How have you prepared for this moment?
My work with data and intelligent ways of exploiting that data has converged in Synapse partners.
- Synapse Partners: https://synapsepartners.co/
You are out with a new book this month–Transportation Transformation: How Autonomous Mobility Will Fuel New Value Chains, out in Paperback (June 9, 2020). Congratulations. I’ve just skimmed through it. It’s fascinating and futuristic, yet detailed and prescriptive. What can you tell me about the book?
This is my second book on the topic. Tackles the three major constituencies that will impact the future of mobility: the automakers, cities, and the on-demand mobility services companies, it looks at both the transportation of people as well as the moving of goods.
You speak about multimodal future. Can you explain what that is about? (00:06:01)
Urban mobility has been thought of in terms of silos: privately owned vehicles, public transportation, on-demand mobility services are all silos. Each of these constituencies have been thinking of their silo and have been trying to optimize for that silo. There are strains to that thinking. Congestion in metropolitan areas, Mumbay, Sao Paulo, Istanbul, Los Angeles or New York, which brings pollution and noise pollution.
The book points out we need to adopt systems thinking in urban mobility. We need to think of all these modalities as a system.
Can you break down these main modes for us? (00:08:20)
Public transportation: trains, buses.
On-demand mobility: cars, micro-transit such as mass transit vehicles, and micromobility which brings e-bikes, e-scooters, bikes and scooters.
All of these modalities will have to be optimized by population segments so we can provide, not only efficient transportation but much better experience for the users. The quality, safety, and affordability of that experience–a number of dimensions need to be taken into account–as we think about the next generation of mobility.
Why is this decade the moment for change? (00:11:20)
Both a confluence of technologies that are starting to show their possibilities and opportunities that they open up as well as factors within cities that are causing citizenry and city leaders to start thinking about changes in the way that people and goods are moving around.
Tech for autonomous vehicles have brought this to a fore, although the marketing is way ahead of the capability of the technologies. However, people have started thinking about the opportunities.
Ride hailing or micromobility companies have made good use of mobile applications to give choice to the consumer about how they move around.
The problems with the use of privately owned vehicles are such that they require very different thinking and solutions. Cities are starting to prohibit such vehicles within certain geofenced areas. China has tremendous congestion in its megacities. How would that evolve if more people were to acquire privately owned vehicles?
- Transportation Transformation (2020): https://www.amazon.com/Transportation-Transformation-Autonomous-Mobility-Chains/dp/0998067725
Let’s first chat about transportation in general. Why do you feel it needs to be re-made? How will automakers, mobility services companies, and cities collaborate and create new value chains going forward?
This transformation, which you are rightfully excited about, will depend on finding attractive business models for all parties involved who are asked to implement big changes.
One notable actor is national and city governments, whose role is foreseen as quite active. What’s in it for them? We don’t really have a choice. They are such a coordinating factor. City governments and the city infrastructure–is key. But what’s in it for them? How are government officials going to understand what their incentives are and get incented quickly enough? How are they going to get the skills to make this happen?
I have taken a very global view and a long term view. So has some cities, notably Berlin and Singapore.
- Urban Mobility 2030: Case study Berlin (McKinsey, 2016)
- A foresight study on urban mobility: Singapore in 2040 (2019)
- ‘Special report: The future of mobility in Los Angeles’ (Automotive World, 2019)
Emerging business models (00:20:30)
Governments: starting to realize that they have to monetize their infrastructure a lot better. If people are driving less, cities will lose parking revenue, traffic violation revenue, tax revenue from owning vehicles, and using vehicles (gas etc.).
Three aspects: (1) roads (cities will have to start pricing the use of roads by time of day and location within a city so that roads in high demand will be priced differently), (2) the curb (to pick up and drop off passengers or goods) is an important component, and has rarely been monetized so far, (3) the sidewalk (cities will start to reconfigure them), bicycle lanes, pedestrian lanes, scooters.
Data will play an important role. Even if data might not be monetized directly, cities will use data collected from the infrastructure and its users in order to appropriately price it. These models are starting to emerge. I see software related platforms that will provide information to optimize mobility within a metropolitan area.
Cities will need to develop skill sets to understand capabilities to understand technologies and monetize the outcomes offered.
Uber licensed its software to the city of Marin, in California, in order to organize its transportation better.
- Uber, Marin Transit announce SaaS partnership to facilitate accessible mobility and on-demand transit (June, 2020)
What about the automotive industry? In your book, you point out that those that don’t embrace new mobility will not survive. How soon will that shift happen?
What are the terms—the vocabulary—we need to navigate new mobility? (autonomy, AI, mobility-as-a-service, etc.)
The field seems to move quite fast. What are the timelines? What impacts these timelines (COVID-19 as acelerant or retardant)? What’s your advice on how to track it? Impact on transportation?
Difficult to make predictions while the knife is falling. We have not reached a steady state, or the new steady state. In the short term, transportation is being impacted. Unemployment is staggering. Shelter-in-place orders. Companies are talking about most of their employees working from home. In the short term, we have to abide by these measures until we have a vaccine with the right efficacy.
After that, we can start thinking of our life in a post-pandemic world. It will take 18 months. Then, we have to determine how to deal with employees. How much requirement to be in the office. Will impact transportation patterns.
What is the right design for cities? In many parts of the world we are building new cities or new satellite cities within major metropolitan areas.
What are the most exciting startups you see in this emerging space? Who are the most exciting corporations and large infrastructure and services providers?
New vehicle architectures
- Rivian, EV startup founded in 2009: https://rivian.com/ trying to caputre the luxury electric pickup truck and SUV market
- Canoo (founded in 2010: https://www.canoo.com/ delivering electric vehicles by subscription
- Aurora: https://aurora.tech/
- Neurable: https://www.neurable.com/ human computer interface or BCI.
- TuSimple: https://www.tusimple.com/ building autonomous freight networks
Software infrastructure or fleet management and optimization
Next generation mobility will be fleet-based, much like we see today with Waymo.
Is owning the asset still crucial with these fleets? What about the future? Will cities own all the vehicles? Or a private company? (00:38:53)
My prediction , based on studying the airline industry is that companies will own a portion of the vehicles they operate, and they lease a larger portion of their fleets. There are corporations that specialize in the financing and preconfiguration of fleets. This is also done in the car rental industry. It will not be necessary for the companies that offer the transportation services to also own the vehicles.
Secondly, fleet based mobility will not be for every city or for every part of the city. It will be combined with the ride coordination model (Uber, Lyft, Didi) where they use other people’s vehicles in order to provide a transportation service.
Didi Global: https://www.didiglobal.com/
These companies, and there won’t be many, will also offer goods delivery.
Tell us a bit about the previous AI spring in 1985-1991. You witnessed it. What’s different now?
Transportation is typically thought of as a slow-moving space. Is this changing? What are the most exciting changes you foresee in the next few years? Who will be behind them?
How to track this emerging mobility field? (00:43:23)
We’ve looked at 7000 different source and references to determine which had something worth quoting. The bibliography is quite extensive.
Three types of resources: (1) technical research papers from universities, cities, and corporations, (2) trade related articles and (3) I’ve created a network and a team of people who are efficient.