New forms of mobility stand to revolutionize how we think about transportation. By freeing a passenger from the monotony of traffic, a semi-truck driver from the disruptive effects of cross-country routes, or an errand-running urbanite from reliance on taxis and public transportation, advanced mobility portends a reshuffling of the methods by which transportation and mobility services are commercialized. Our standard commoditization structures won’t always match new technologies and new ideas. Policymakers, business leaders and those with vested interest in advanced mobility will need to be willing to adjust swiftly as new models of commerce make themselves apparent in these emerging spaces.
Globally, hailing a cab and paying an agreed-upon rate or fee is a relatively standard exchange. Promulgated through cultural depictions, even those who live far from bustling city streets understand the commercialization model. Although the specifics may vary from city to city or region to region, the basic premise is shared across its variations. The advent of ridesharing and carsharing mobile platforms disrupted that long-established industry and system. In multiple US cities, taxicab operators have seen the value of their medallions (the licenses allowing an individual or company to operate a taxi) crater as people around the globe use ridesharing apps to traverse cities and suburbs alike.
Autonomous vehicles could cause similar disruption to the current system as passengers opt to travel in a vehicle with a technological chauffeur. Uber and Lyft have already positioned their platforms for autonomous vehicle adoption and incorporation into a broader transportation network. Uber recently announced a 10-year partnership with Motional, a Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture, to deploy autonomous vehicles across the US. Lyft customers can already receive a ride from a Motional vehicle in Las Vegas. After attempts to jumpstart their own autonomous ventures, both ridesharing giants realized they could instead use the platforms they had already built as a path to simplify deployment for autonomous vehicles.
Other autonomous vehicle companies, however, are looking to forge their own path. Cruise, the GM-backed AV forerunner, and Waymo, an Alphabet spinoff, are creating new platforms for customers to utilize. Cruise plans to introduce the Origin, a new vehicle built from the ground up with autonomous operation in mind. These Level 4 vehicles, however, tend to be geofenced to specific parts of a city, limiting consumer options at least in the near term.
Waymo operates beyond consumer transportation, envisioning a “driver-as-a-service” system for autonomous trucking. Under this structure, Waymo Via will work with manufacturers to build autonomous trucks and sell them to carriers, who will also pay Waymo for deployment support and software operations. Kodiak Robotics envisions other systems, including a subscription-based service. In the future, Kodiak plans to install its self-driving technology onto a carrier’s vehicle and charge a low per-mile subscription fee. Kodiak plans to partner with companies like Pilot to build hubs alongside major freight corridors where autonomous trucks and last-mile delivery vehicles can exchange freight seamlessly. In the meantime, Kodiak has launched several pilot programs to transport freight for interested companies.
Years ago, thought leaders imagined autonomous technology being most easily applicable during last-mile delivery. However while robots like Nuro have partnered to deliver local goods, the major logistics players are getting out of the sector. Both Amazon and FedEx recently announced plans to scale back or disband their delivery-bot projects. Walmart has proposed a novel model for its drone-delivery program. Instead of delivering only Walmart-specific goods, the retail chain has invested in DroneUp, a drone delivery company that will operate a network. Local businesses and municipalities will be able to utilize DroneUp’s system, so it becomes integrated into a community instead of just an add-on service available to a local Walmart.
Some forms of advanced mobility lend themselves to partnerships with other, more established businesses. For example, Joby, an aerial transportation service, recently announced its partnership with Delta to transport travelers from hubs within the city to the airport in time for their flight. Some suggest that Delta might introduce a service like this as a perk for frequent fliers or as part of a more premium service. In this model, Joby can introduce its technology to an already-interested audience in an applicable setting. X-Bridge and Mapless AI recently introduced vehicles at the Pittsburgh International Airport that will arrive to a customer via remote operation. The vehicle will allow customers to drive themselves around the airport after parking their personal car in preparation for a trip. These models enable advanced mobility companies to introduce new solutions alongside established adjacent businesses.
New forms of transportation will require outside-the-box thinking that integrates new tech into our society without staying wedded to traditional commercialization methods. Policymakers and thought leaders should be prepared to engage new systems of commerce as our foundational understandings of mobility shift.
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