Meeting of the Minds: Shared Mobility is the Precursor to Autonomous Vehicle Networks

autonomous vehicle networks

Autonomous vehicle networks. We’ve discussed this topic before with our founder, Sandra Phillips, where she described her thoughts on the future of shared mobility in this video. Diving into this topic a little further with our guest post on Meeting of the Minds, we wanted to recap that article for you here.

Autonomous Vehicles for Shared Mobility Operators

Naturally, shared mobility operators are particularly interested in the surge of talk and anticipation about autonomous vehicles. Ridesharing providers such as Uber, Lyft and Didi are investing heavily into Autonomous Vehicle technology with anticipation that this form of transportation will make up the future. Earlier this year, Uber announced its partnership with Daimler to bring self-driving technology to the market. Didi has opened up an artificial intelligence lab in Mountain View, the backyard of many autonomous vehicle competitors. Lyft’s collaboration with GM is well known and this month they announced an investment from Jaguar Landrover to bring autonomous connected vehicles on the road.

What the AV Buzz Means

So what’s with all the buzz? The AV buzz clearly indicates that the autonomous revolution is imminent. The engineering communities are excited about solving some of the technological challenges, which will ensure data sharing and interoperatability. Governments and cities are trying to grasp the implications of AVs on the road and provide the right regulatory frameworks. Amidst all of this excitement, we shouldn’t forget the impacts this revolution will have on people and that we will have to solve some real operational challenges.

There are three areas that define a carsharing future, in fact any shared mobility venture, and they all have to be addressed when launching and operating a service. They are the three cornerstones of what Phillips calls the “Shared Mobility Bermuda Triangle”:

  • The physical space where AVs will drive or park
  • The vehicles, which will be connected to the cloud, and also need to be safe, clean, and in the right location at the right time
  • The members of the carsharing network who will have to subscribe to the services and become part of the program.

Optimizing Utilization of Physical Space: The case of ReachNow

Currently our cars are the most underutilized assets in our households. It is estimated that a private car remains unused 90% to 95% of the time. Free-floating carsharing  models such as ReachNow or car2go have a higher rate of utilization and are parked at a lesser rate of about 88% to 93%. The AV revolution promises that vehicles will be driving at any given time unless they are being cleaned or repaired. Yet how do you make sure the AVs are in the right place at the right time?

Instead of adding more vehicles to city roads to offer a new taxi or ridehailing service, it makes more sense to utilize an existing fleet in a more effective way. ReachNow in Seattle is currently piloting exactly such a flexible scheme; they use their carsharing fleet to run a ridesharing service. ReachNow’s combined fleet not only increases utilization rates of their current fleet, it also learns the travel patterns of Seattleites at different times. This data will be incredibly valuable for any autonomous vehicle network because they will have to apply machine learning over large sets of travel data in order to get vehicles to the right location at the right time. Shared mobility vehicles today are already learning these patterns.

Managing a Dispersed Vehicle Fleet: The case of Eco-Service

The simple promise of AVs is similar to carsharing: you have the convenience of getting around town without any of the hassles of car ownership. The car is always available at the click of an app; no cleaning is required, no maintenance is required, and you’ll never have to find a gas station again. This sounds simple in theory, but the reality is not quite so easy. How do we make sure that shared AVs are in safe and clean conditions and at the right place at all time?

How do carsharing organisations deal with all of this? Most free-floating providers such as Evo, ReachNow or car2go outsource this part. A company that is a pioneer in this field is Eco-Service, which cleans the vehicles parked on the streets with a waterless solution, relocates them to hotzones, and refuels or recharges them to provide the ultimate convenience to customers. To be more effective, Eco-Service has built special software that manages their staff in the field. Their teams are equipped with smart phones and receive tasks through a ticketing system based on the operators and customers needs. Using that data or existing algorithms would provide a useful baseline for driver-less vehicle networks of the future.

Gaining Member Trust: The case of Blablacar

The most crucial element for successful shared mobility or AV services are the members. Shared mobility operators must convince the residents of their city that their convenient, safe and affordable service is trustworthy. How will self-driving vehicle operators ensure that passengers in their AVs are not exposed to harm or danger from others inside the vehicle?

One big player in the sharing economy in Europe is BlaBlaCar, a carpooling operator that is considered the online version of hitchhiking. BlaBlaCar has done extensive research to understand the challenges around trust and to develop trust building tools. They have come up with a trust framework called D.R.E.A.M.S which is focused on providing relevant information on prospective drivers and riders. Their research has focused on finding which pieces of information on a peer are most relevant and build the greatest level of trust.

D.R.E.A.M.S. stands for:

  • Declared (photo and name)
  • Rated (ratings)
  • Engaged (booking box)
  • Active (information on past activities)
  • Moderated (evidence of verification of information)
  • Social (Facebook and LinkedIn connections)

When self-driving vehicles are introduced to the market, the operators of these fleets will have to answer how to provide a safe service and start building trusted environments for their passengers. Trust will be the new gold.

Self-driving vehicle networks share many of the same operational challenges as today’s shared mobility services. That industry already has an understanding of what people care about, how they travel in cities, and what their biggest fears are. Today’s successful mobility companies have created operational solutions for these problems. Integrating the lessons learned from shared mobility services is the only way to introduce AVs in a smart, human-centric, and efficient way that will truly solve some of today’s biggest urban transportation challenges.

Questions about the future of AVs? Contact us here.


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