Top News

How to win in the autonomous taxi space

How to win in the autonomous taxi space

The promise of self-driving cars is to create a world where anyone, anywhere can summon a car and travel safely to their destination, at close to zero cost.

Mobility is a space that has traditionally been operated by city governments at low cost for low convenience, or by private companies at a high cost for high convenience. With the advent of on-demand mobility players like Uber and Lyft, which looked to disrupt the traditionally high cost of taxi services, consumers have benefited from lower costs. However, automation through self-driving technology will cause massive disruption to this industry of personal mobility with the variable cost of transportation declining to almost nothing. Companies creating autonomous taxi fleets have a unique opportunity to define and lead this shift toward virtually free and ubiquitous transportation.

Personal mobility is a huge space with many incumbents vying for market share. Below is a map covering some of the major players currently operating in the space. The landscape includes both autonomous/regular taxi services, as well as on-demand/public transport services.

Firms that charge relatively low prices and offer substantial differentiation are following a best-cost strategy. This strategy is difficult to execute, but it is also potentially very rewarding. Self-driving taxi companies are creating one of the most compelling executions of this strategy, by offering the lowest-cost transportation at the highest convenience. However, some of the major challenges they will need to address are around technology, regulation, business models and distribution.

The tech to enable fully driverless cars is already here, and the next few years will see huge advances in these systems. Additionally, owing to the fact that self-driving cars have the potential to save millions of lives, it is high on the agenda of lawmakers to quickly finalize regulation to allow these vehicles on the roads.

Autonomous taxi firms will innovate with new business models such as advertising, sponsorships, in-car services and more to allow them to drive costs of transport to almost zero, offsetting the variable costs with these additional revenue streams. Finally, of all these challenges, only distribution remains the biggest hurdle to existing incumbents and new entrants in the space to be able to create a competitive advantage to win.

As the autonomous taxi space continues to get crowded even at this early stage before any full rollouts, companies will need to understand the competitive landscape, with operators across the entire value chain. It is expected that soon consumers will no longer buy cars and instead treat transportation and personal mobility as a public utility just like electricity, water and the internet. This dynamic will significantly change how suppliers and vendors in the space consider their existing business models.

Major automakers are keen to avoid the same fate of telecoms being relegated to “dumb pipes” because of the advent of mobile internet and over the top communications, and are now committed to deploying their own self-driving taxi fleets as they adapt their strategies to move away from being manufacturers to becoming service providers. As a result, players in this space will need to create significant competitive barriers and moats around their business models to fend off not only incumbents but also new entrants.

The way that an autonomous taxi firm can create sustainable competitive barriers and win in this space is by deploying the largest fleet of self-driving taxis as soon as possible and by creating cyclical economies of scale on both the supply side and demand side (network effects).

Players in the space should create supply-side economies of scale by partnering with tier 1 automotive manufacturers to drive down costs of vehicle manufacturing, and by exploring additional revenue streams to offset the cost of transport.

To create cyclical network effects through increased distribution, players should partner with city/government bodies to become the fleet operator of choice. This would be a powerful way to create lock-in and distribution and a way to become the default option for riders in cities across the world.

Ali Ahmed is a tech entrepreneur with expertise in on-demand mobility and robotics.

Continue reading…


  • Self-driving ecosystem value chain (Ahmed, 2017)
Japan trials driverless cars to help elderly people get around in rural areas

Japan trials driverless cars to help elderly people get around in rural areas

As the annual rice harvest begins this month in the Japanese town of Nishikata, the combines that usually putter along the sleepy roads lining its rice fields are giving way to a vehicle residents have never before seen, a driverless shuttle bus.

Japan is starting to experiment with self-driving buses in rural communities such as Nishikata, 115 km (71 miles) north of the capital, Tokyo, where elderly residents struggle with fewer bus and taxi services as the population ages and shrinks.

The swift advance of autonomous driving technology is prompting cities such as Paris and Singapore to experiment with such services, which could prove crucial in Japan, where populations are not only greying, but declining, in rural areas. Japan could launch self-driving services for remote communities by 2020, if the trials begun this month prove successful.

The government plans to turn highway rest stops into hubs from which to ferry the elderly to medical, retail and banking services.

“Smaller towns in Japan are greying even faster than cities, and there are just not enough workers to operate buses and taxis,” said Hiroshi Nakajima of mobile gaming software maker DeNA, which has branched into automotive software. “But there are a lot of service areas around the country, and they could serve as a hub for mobility services,” added Nakajima, the firm’s automotive director.

In the initial trials of the firm’s driverless six-seater Robot Shuttle, elderly residents of Nishikata, in Japan’s Tochigi prefecture, were transferred between a service area and a municipal complex delivering healthcare services. The town mirrors Japan’s population profile, with roughly a third of its 6,300 residents aged 65 or more, up from about a quarter four years ago, while the population overall has shrunk 4.5 percent.

Daily bus services are limited to just a handful. “I worry about not being able to go out when I’m no longer able to drive,” said one test rider, Shizu Yuzawa, adding that she would be open to using such a service.

Continue reading…

  • Japan’s Robot Shuttle, developed by DeNa Co is on trial in Nishikata.
BlaBlaCar expands its commuting pilot in France

BlaBlaCar expands its commuting pilot in France

As confirmed by BlaBlaCar at the New Mobility World exhibition at IAA 2017 in Frankfurt, and as reported by FleetEurope, BlaBlaCar is extending its pilot scheme for commuting via rideshare from the French cities of Reims and Toulouse to the Île de France region (Paris and environs).

The service, called BlaBlaLines, is dedicated to medium- to short-distance commutes and operates on a separate platform from BlaBlaCar, which is the leading service for long-distance ridesharing. BlaBlaLines is available as a free download for Android – and now also for iPhone. Île de France could prove fertile terrain for BlaBlaCar, as 43% of the local workforce commutes to work by car, and the average occupancy is just 1.05 persons per vehicle.

Continue reading…

  • BlaBlaCar is developing more in the direction of public transport.
Arval launches carpooling and bikesharing in France

Arval launches carpooling and bikesharing in France

Arval France is expanding its mobility offer by partnering with carpool specialist WayzUp and cycle-sharing specialists Cyclez and SVMS. The lease company’s new offers will be launched on 16 September, the start of the European Mobility Week. The carpooling solution developed with WayzUp is aimed at the commute between home and work. Employees will be able to plan their shared journeys via an app.

As part of the cycle-sharing solution developed with Cyclez and SVMS, Arval will provide electric bicycles and in-house charging stations, and employees can reserve the bikes via an app, without the need for fleet managers to intervene.

Continue reading…

  • Arval offering carpooling and ridesharing in France
Clever and climate-friendly: 20 Toyota Mirai for Hamburg

Clever and climate-friendly: 20 Toyota Mirai for Hamburg

Last week in Hamburg was a milestone for fuel cell mobility. The first 20 (out of a total 35) Toyota Mirai were handed over to the CleverShuttle ridesharing service. This makes it the world’s largest fleet of fuel-cell vehicles run by a single operator.

The CleverShuttle ridesharing service, will now launch in Hamburg (following Berlin, Leipzig and Munich) relying solely on the Toyota Mirai – the first mass-produced fuel cell saloon car. This fleet is therefore powered entirely by hydrogen making it completely free of harmful substances and CO2 on the road.

The target customers are primarily train passengers looking for transport to and from train stations. The service is booked via an app, allowing grouping of passengers with similar routes. This means CleverShuttle can offer affordable prices, up to 40 per cent less than standard taxi prices.

For the second stage, just in time for Oktoberfest, Clevershuttle will also add 15 Toyota Mirai in Munich. This means visitors can travel from the train station to the famous folk festival emission-free.

“Handing over the Mirai is a momentous occasion for me”, explained Tom Fux, managing director and president of Toyota Deutschland GmbH. “We are proud that CleverShuttle chose us to be its trusted partner, relying solely on Toyota’s fuel-cell technology in Hamburg from now on. CleverShuttle has proven that using vehicles on an everyday basis, protecting the climate and keeping the air clean are not mutually exclusive. Instead we have formed an innovative, symbiotic relationship through the combination of clever technology and on-demand ride sharing.”

“We want to bring even more e-mobility to the street. Hydrogen and fuel cells provide a vital alternative and complement purely battery-powered vehicles”, explained Enak Ferlemann, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Transport. “In recent months, the number of public hydrogen fuel stations has nearly doubled. This is an impressive development and is increasing the level of driver trust when it comes to filling up in their area.”

  • Clever and climate-friendly: 20 Toyota Mirai for Hamburg
We need to stop pretending that the autonomous car is imminent: Tap the brakes!

We need to stop pretending that the autonomous car is imminent: Tap the brakes!

It’s time to face some challenging realities when it comes to autonomous cars. While consensus seems to imply that the future of driving is nearly upon us, even a relatively cursory check of some of the necessary enablers for truly autonomous automobiles would suggest otherwise.

From security concerns to high costs to missing infrastructure to car design complexity to uncertain legal expectations and more, there are a host of legitimate concerns that, in some cases, by themselves represent a serious challenge to the near-term release of truly independent vehicles. Taken together, however, they strongly suggest a much longer timeline for adoption than many have been led to believe.

Let’s start with some basics. The general expectation is that autonomy is intrinsically linked to vehicle electrification. The big problem here is that very few consumers are buying or planning to buy electric vehicles. Sure, we can point to the hundreds of thousands of preorders for Tesla’s Model 3, but even if they all get delivered over the next two years, they will represent a tiny single-digit percentage of total U.S. auto sales.

Throw in all the other electric vehicles from other carmakers, and the number still remains well below 5 percent. Why? In part because U.S. consumers are generally very concerned about getting stranded if the batteries run out. Rightly or wrongly, until we see nearly as many charging stations as we have gas stations, there will be reluctance on the part of car buyers to give up their gas-powered vehicles. (Of course, throw in the fact that there are multiple electric-car charging standards, and that charging “fill-ups” are measured in tens of minutes — or even hours — and you start to get a sense of the problem.) “Until we see nearly as many charging stations as we have gas stations, there will be reluctance on the part of car buyers to give up their gas-powered vehicles.”

We could start to see more interest in electric vehicles as second cars that are used primarily for short errand trips around town, but then we run into pricing concerns because few people want to spend more for a second car than their primary vehicle. Plus, the costs and potential impact on the electric grid as consumers start to install in-garage charging systems — yet another expense associated with electric cars — are potential concerns.

Even if we get past the electric car issues — or if, as I suspect, we start to see more autonomous driving features in hybrid or even gas-powered vehicles — plenty of other obstacles remain.

Foremost among these are security issues — at many levels. First, there is the physical security and safety of both autonomous vehicle occupants and the other people who interact with autonomous vehicles. While it’s clear that great advances in autonomous driving algorithms have been made, it’s also obvious that there are still concerns about how “ready” this technology currently is. The fact that several engineers from Tesla’s AutoPilot program actually went so far as to leave the company, in part because of their concerns about the potential safety concerns of current implementations, speaks volumes about the current state of affairs in autonomous driving systems.

Beyond physical safety are the cybersecurity concerns. As has been discussed by many before, enormous potential threats are opened when the connectivity necessary to build and run autonomous cars is put into place. The notion of hacking when it comes to automobiles moves from an annoyance to a life-threatening concern.

Many companies are currently doing excellent work to try to combat or prevent these kinds of issues. However, their work is made significantly more difficult by the fact that modern car designs and internal architectures are both extraordinarily complex — Rube Goldberg-like is not far from the truth — and, in some instances, based on old, limited standards that were never intended to support today’s computing and connectivity requirements.

The recent discovery that the CANbus (which is an absolutely essential part of how a car’s various systems components are linked together) is fundamentally broken when it comes to preventing some modern types of digital threats, for example, is just the latest in the long line of concerns about current car architectures. The truth is, we’re way overdue for an entirely new approach to car design — especially for autonomous cars — but the auto industry’s supply chain, infrastructure and entire way of working is stacked strongly against these kinds of necessary major changes happening anytime soon.

Continue reading:

  • Autonomous cars – not for tomorrow, but the day-after?
How Barcelona is reducing daily car journeys

How Barcelona is reducing daily car journeys

Nick Michell spoke to Mercedes Vidal Lago, Councillor for Mobility in Barcelona, about the city’s plans to reduce car journeys and encourage increased walking and cycling

How much of a problem is air pollution in Barcelona in relation to motorised-vehicles?

“Today Barcelona clearly exceeds the thresholds recommended by the World Health Organisation both for nitrogen dioxide and particles, especially in terms of average levels of these pollutants in the atmosphere. Air pollution not only causes more than 650 premature deaths annually in Barcelona, but also represents the deterioration in the quality of life for many people; an increase in cardio respiratory illnesses, and especially affects the elderly, people with respiratory problems and children may suffer from delayed cognitive development.”

“So fighting pollution is a priority for the Government, and we are willing to take bold steps. In November 2016 we presented the government measure “Program of measures against air pollution”, 58 specific actions to be developed during the period 2016-2020. Many of the measures are linked to our Urban Mobility Plan.”

The Urban Mobility Plan targets a reduction of 21 percent in the number of car journeys made daily. Is the city on track to reach this goal?

“The Urban Mobility Plan (UMP) sets out an ambitious target for changing Barcelona’s modal split towards sustainable mobility. It plans many measures to integrate the use of bicycles, improve surface infrastructure for public transport and most importantly increase tenfold the areas in which pedestrians may have priority. This is our most ambitious goal, the one that should have the highest impact on emissions and car use dependence, and therefore on completing the 21 percent decrease of car and motorbike use. The timescale for this was very short, 2013-2018, taking into account that the UMP was only approved in 2015. We are committed though to making a huge step forward.”

How important is the development of superblocks in encouraging increased walking and creating a more pedestrian friendly urban space?

“Today 20 percent of trips made in Barcelona are in a car or motorbike, whereas 60 percent of its public space is dedicated to carriageways. We must rebalance this in favour of pedestrians, bicycles and public transport, providing more space for sustainable modes. Beyond, we should recover urban space for social activities, such as resting, entertainment, interaction, or street markets, urban spaces where before we had traffic and car parks.”

“In 2016 we started the first pilot superblock of this term, in Poble Nou. We learned a lot from the experience, which allowed us to continue with the implementation of the programme this year. In 2017 we aim to start five new superblocks: Sant Antoni, Horta, Eixample, les Corts, and Gracia.”

The number of bike lane kilometres in Barcelona has increased by 21 percent, from 116 to 141 kilometres. What progress is being made on the aim to increase three-fold the number of bicycle lane kilometres?

“Barcelona has introduced a total of 23 bike lanes from the start of this term, and six more will be added this year. As part of the bike strategy, the city is continuing to expand the network of cycle paths and cyclists, with the aim of having an infrastructure that is safe, understandable, connected and set up to access the whole city by bike.”

“Since the beginning of this term, the number of bike lane kilometres in Barcelona has increased by 21 percent, from 116 to 141 kilometres and the city government continues to work to achieve the goal of 308 kilometres. This summer sees the start of the construction of 62.5 more kilometres.”

Continue reading:

  • Priority for bicycles in Barcelona’s mobility plan.
US House ‘Bipartisan’ Robot Car Bill threatens highway safety, Consumer Watchdog warns

US House ‘Bipartisan’ Robot Car Bill threatens highway safety, Consumer Watchdog warns

A bill covering autonomous vehicles that the House of Representatives rushed to pass today threatens highway safety and leaves a regulatory void rather than enacting necessary protections, Consumer Watchdog warned today.

The bill, passed on a voice vote, under rules to expedite consideration, was being touted in some quarters as an example of new-found Congressional bipartisanship. “Bipartisanship is worthless when it produces a dangerous bill,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director.

The autonomous vehicle bill, called the SELF-DRIVE Act, would leave a wild west without adequate safety protections for consumers, Consumer Watchdog said. The bill pre-empts any state safety standards, but there are none at the national level.

“Pre-empting the states’ ability to fill the void left by federal inaction leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish with no safety protections at all,” said Simpson.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration needs do its job and Congress should give the agency the money to do it,” said Simpson. “The sad reality is that President Trump hasn’t even bothered to nominate a NHTSA administrator.”

The Department of Transportation has completely ignored a committee, the Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation (ACAT) created by the Obama Administration to offer advice on autonomous vehicle policy.  It has not met since Trump took office.

Self-driving car developers claim to worry about a so-called state-by-state patchwork of conflicting safety regulations, that they claim would hamper innovation.

“That’s nonsense.  If NHTSA enacted Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards covering autonomous vehicles they would automatically preempt state safety regulations,” said Simpson.  “The House action was show-boating that actually puts Consumers at risk.”

Consumer Watchdog’s has released an in-depth study, “Self-Driving Vehicles: The Threat to Consumers.”  Read the report here:

• US House ‘Bipartisan’ Robot Car Bill threatens highway safety, Consumer Watchdog warns.

Metropia launches online carpooling service In Houston to match carless Harvey victims with willing drivers

Metropia launches online carpooling service In Houston to match carless Harvey victims with willing drivers

Metropia Inc., innovators of traffic congestion management platforms, today announced the launch of its online carpool pairing service to provide post-Harvey support to Houstonians who lost their vehicles to floodwaters.

An estimated 500,000 vehicles were destroyed in the flooding brought by Hurricane Harvey. As schools and offices reopen, the countless car-dependent Houstonians left without easy access to transportation will be reliant on the generosity of their fellow citizens for ongoing commutes until such time as insurance claims are completed, local dealerships are able to meet the incredible demand, and public transit is fully up and running to those who have access.

By signing up at, Houstonians in need of a ride and drivers happy to share one can enter their starting location, departure time, and destination into the site, selecting it as a one-way or roundtrip carpool. Behind the scenes, Metropia’s matching algorithms will work to pair nearby drivers and passengers with a common destination and travel time, introducing the two via email for the purposes of forming a carpool.

The pairing process allows potential carpoolers to participate at their own level of comfort with privacy in mind. Once paired with another carpooler, drivers and passengers are given the name and email address provided by their match during signup and invited to reach out to discuss their carpool in greater detail. From that point, participants can share as much or as little personal information as desired. For example, those wishing to speak on the phone can exchange numbers, or those wishing to meet at a neutral pick-up spot can do so without sharing their home address.

“There are many outstanding programs established in the wake of Hurricane Harvey to help Houstonians get back on their feet, but our city’s recovery will still very much rely on the generosity of Houstonians in helping one other,” says Dr. Yi-Chang Chiu, Founder of Metropia, Inc. “This is a unique opportunity for Houstonians to lend a helping hand to their neighbors and show the heart that our great city is known for. If you have an extra seat available in your car, we encourage you to signup at and share a ride with someone in need.”
• Metropia launches online carpooling service In Houston to match carless Harvey victims with willing drivers.

Redesigning Uber for Business

Redesigning Uber for Business

When I joined Uber for Business three years ago, we were a very small and scrappy group with a clear mission: to simplify ground transportation for business travelers. We realized that a lot of people were already using Uber on business trips, and we wanted to develop products and experiences that spoke directly to those users. From my first day, I was impressed with the entire team and our ability to move quickly. It was exhilarating to be surrounded by great people, building something that would provide real value to millions of people — creating a huge impact in a relatively short time.

Three years later, our team has grown to over 100 people, serving 65,000 companies worldwide. But even as we’ve grown, I’ve been struck by how much it still feels like working on a small team: we continue to move quickly, and we are still able to interact with and learn from our users and their concerns. Our launch builds on three important things in particular that we’ve learned along the way:

  1. “Uber for Business” means different things to different companies. Soon after first launching Uber for Business, we saw companies setting up multiple accounts for different groups of people to access different travel programs. For example, a sales team may need rides available in every city, a new office employee might need rides from the train station to the office, and people working late could need rides home.

But the need for multiple accounts complicated things for our users. One car manufacturer we work with set up 35 different accounts for dealerships to book rides for customers within each region. Managers and administrators were having to juggle multiple accounts — exactly the problem we were trying to solve while building Uber for Business in the first place!

Our recent launch has redesigned our whole product so that a single account can set up multiple travel programs, each one with specific settings for different individual and group users. And it’s not just for employees: for example, recruiters can use Uber Central to book rides for job candidates, or to give visiting partners and clients door-to-door service while they are in the city. With this redesign, we’ve eliminated the need to jump between accounts — an administrator can log in to one account and get a bird’s eye view of all Uber usage across their entire organization. We redesigned our dashboard to create a more consistent experience when switching between our different products (Uber for Business, Uber Central)

  1. Our clients want access to services beyond rides.

When most people today think of Uber, they think of pushing a button and getting a ride. However, over the years we’ve seen companies using Uber’s app in many different ways other than getting themselves around town. That has inspired us to create new services to better fit their needs.

Uber Central is a great example of this: it began as a product spun up after we saw how some companies (hotels, for example) were using multiple phones to order rides for clients and patrons. This not only required creating multiple accounts, but also using multiple devices to book rides simultaneously. Uber Central fixes that: it empowers any mobile phone or front desk within an organization to order multiple rides for guests that are paid for by the company.

Our recent changes to Uber for Business make it easy for us to give companies access to new services like Uber Central. Companies can now give specific people, like front desk attendants, office managers, and recruiters access to this new service from Uber.

Continue reading:

• Rebuilding Uber for Business – as described in Medium.