By Sherry M. Adler
Think about transportation — your transportation. What likely comes to mind are vehicles — your vehicles. Christian Fritz, Ph.D., has a different view, largely absent of personal vehicles. That’s because his research program is turning transportation into a service industry — a software industry.
Dr. Fritz is leader of Representation and Planning (RAP) at PARC, a Xerox company. He discusses his team’s work on the full potential of disruptive technology for transportation, and how it will likely become part of our lives.
Q: What are the goals of RAP?
Christian Fritz: We build and deploy innovative software that fills unmet market needs. Our focus now is on applications in digital manufacturing and urban transportation. In both, we expect significant disruptions to occur over the next 5-10 years, such as 3D printing in the former and self-driving cars in the latter. In transportation, we are developing and implementing algorithms to help transform what we know today into a software industry.
Q: Will transportation change to a service/software industry in one fell swoop?
C.F.: It will occur in stages. However, once things begin to take shape, the process will swing into fast forward mode. The infrastructure already is taking root. ‘Ridesharing’ services, such as Uber and Lyft are picking people up at their starting point and getting them to their destination. Other commuting services, such as Bridj and RidePal collect customers at central meeting places and take them to work appointments. Private taxis and public transportation operate on the same basis, but lack the flexibility and economy of these new business models.
Q: It seems like a quantum leap to go from Uber to transportation as a software industry.
C.F.: Yes and no. Uber-like services are proliferating. In fact, Uber operates in some 200 cities around the globe. Investors are backing these start-ups; they wouldn’t do that unless they deemed them a fertile market. As these services grow, a lot of data is being collected. And data and analytics serve as the fodder for software plays. Plus there are other activities taking place, namely work on self-driving cars. All of this is part of the infrastructure I referred to before. What happens is that a constellation of developments comes together and results in a sea change.
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Q: It still seems like a stretch.
C.F.: It may appear that way if you look at things in a linear fashion from a set starting point. It’s a process that occurs at various junctions; over time, the branches congeal and interlink. As Uber-like services thrive, more people use them instead of driving to work. The more that happens, the more likely consumers may consider forgoing car ownership. It’s expensive to buy a car, operate it, house, maintain and fix it. Americans spend $300 billion on gas alone each year on an item that clearly depreciates in value. Car manufacturers play into this vision. Daimler recently bought a car sharing service as well as a trip planning smartphone app. And autonomous ─ self-driving ─ cars are on the drawing board and small pilots are underway.
Q: Paint a picture how, as you say, ‘a constellation of developments comes together.’
C.F.: As options to car ownership expand, a new vision of the future begins to percolate. Mobility as a service, which would turn transportation into an industry where innovation and differentiation is created by software, is not predicated on how many people buy cars. Instead, it derives from what customers really want, which is to get from Point A to Point B. It’s not about the car, but rather about mobility. This vision develops in several ways, on societal and technological fronts. Mobility as a service is not a radical idea. It’s a projection based on what’s out there now, with ever more providers populating the playing field with an ever increasing variety of mobility services. This, of course, includes car-sharing services like Zipcar, Car2Go and BlaBlaCar .
Say goodbye to car ownership? Car manufacturers play into this vision. http://ctt.ec/217bD+ #SelfDriving #Transportation #Disruption
Q: What’s the timeframe?
C.F.: What we say at PARC is that knowing what the future holds is more important than when it will occur. Is it time to turn in your car keys? In my opinion, we’ll see a lot less car ownership in 10 years. That’s because autonomous cars will be coming off the assembly line in the next 5 years with even more by 2025. They will accelerate the mobility as a service trend. Interesting dynamics occur. For example, as we present this new concept of mobility, more people buy into it. That growing belief propels the vision on its own, like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Q: What exactly is PARC’s role?
C.F.: We, with other Xerox research centers, are creating the software to make this vision a reality and intend to harvest the revenue in this space going forward. A disruption such as this will have other technological needs, such as artificial intelligence to optimize services and enhance the user experience. We are at the forefront to provide this. Also in this scenario, cities are potential customers and PARC is poised to expand the work we are doing now on the technologies and solutions for this base. The vision itself is something we are propagating. Our thought leadership paints the future and gets stakeholders ready to see the importance and want it. We’re the ones connecting the dots, closing the gap and making it real. We’re putting the possibilities in the context of society and helping people understand.
Q: There’s so much more but, for the time being, what are your closing thoughts for Xerox people?
C.F.: Autonomous driving will not just be a nice-to-have feature in the car of the future. It’s not like heated seats. It will alter mobility as we know it. The points: This development will have ramifications on people’s lives and changes will occur. It’s exciting and there a plenty of ways for Xerox to become part of it.
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