After having visited many start-ups, Venture Capital and large corporates in the smart mobility environment, I would like to draw a picture of this ecosystem Worldwide, its stakeholders, the current innovation trends and the barriers to faster development.
A MIX OF INDUSTRY
The Smart Mobility World is a blend of different actors that are easy to assess by the terminology itself. “Smart” refers to the Tech sector that is involved in building new technologies while “Mobility” implies a presence of the automotive industry.
Moreover, an impressive ecosystem of start-up is also booming in this Industry. Drones, Autonomous Vehicles, Electric chargers, Li-Fi Technology, Mobility app… Everyone is trying to cope with the trends and to take a small part of a cake that keeps supersizing. As in every industry, Data is a ubiquitous topic. Many new business ventures are focusing on Data measurement, treatment or analysis for improving traffic management.
This mix of industry creates a competitive but also collaborative environment that fastens the innovation creation and synergies thanks to the networking effect
Finally, Infrastructures, managing roads installations, are also present as they play a big role in the integration of innovations in the streets. To maintain their major stake in the game, Infrastructure companies manages what is called “Integrators”. Integrators create the link between the Corporate World and administrations. And this position is very favourable as one can imagine.
Indeed, dealing with administrations means long contracting period, influences and big investments. Because of their local (or national) implementor roles, the infrastructure companies have a privileged relationship with administrations. And because their work represents an important part of the budget, infrastructure companies are usually leading the tenders. With time, they have successfully managed to create the Integrators that select (directly or indirectly through lobbying) the appropriate technologies.
Therefore, it becomes critical for start-ups to be able to tie links with them in order to manage to sell their innovation. Integrators are now starting to incubate start-ups to ensure a technology benchmark but mainly to keep the monopoly link with administrations.
This lobbying power is also one of the reasons that explains why the most powerful companies on Earth encounter difficulties to develop the Smart cities concept Worldwide. It will take time before being important enough to move Infrastructure Companies from the strategic position they have created.
While electric scooters have recently boomed in some cities, the next hot topic to come is UAM: Urban Air Mobility. The concept is led by Uber and could totally disrupt the infrastructure needs and so the lobbying forces in a medium term.
GLOBAL VS LOCAL
However, another issue to face for large corporations that invest a lot in this ecosystem, is the adaptation to local needs. Indeed, the global solution is a utopia as it is very complicated to replicate or adapt to every different situation.
For some industries, it sounds easy to develop the same product everywhere. After all, why would an iPhone be different in Shanghai or in Peru?
When it comes to mobility, you have to deal with different regulations, different sort of vehicles, different cultures, different current installations, different levels of budgets, and finally many different contacts to create.
In term of technology, one of the major problems remains the last mile problematic in big cities. Logistics companies like Amazon, Autonomous driving companies like Tesla or Daimler are all racing to find the technological solution. The next step would be to convince administrations to enact full autonomous drive, which is certainly harder that the technological aspect itself.
Technologies are evolving thanks to human intelligence, but human perception is actually one of the major retarders of technology implementation.
Many mayors or administrations lack knowledge about technologies and procrastinate as soon as decisions step out of their comfort zone. The speed of technologies advancement does not neither help for envisioning expensive long-term technological investments.
Moreover, Politicians are not willing to invest in new technologies because citizens might not see it. Politicians want to be elected and citizens vote for dynamism. And it is easier to show dynamism when things are visible. The caricature could be something like: “Between flowers on a roundabout or smart traffic light management, I’d rather invest in flowers because it creates happiness”. I am afraid that reality is not that far.
The second problem is the short-term versus long-term trade-off. Politics evolve every 4 to 7 years. Some projects are only rewarding after 10 years. Politicians might invest in short-term smaller results rather than in long-term solutions that will not be counted in their mandate positive results.
Obviously, human perception and technology sensitivity are different from a country to another. The most advanced countries are certainly Singapore and more generally South East Asia. Scandinavians and Dutch are also innovative and are very keen on green solutions while USA and Israel are fascinating in terms of Tech application (V2X, V2V, V2I, UAM).
The environment evolves and administrations tend to take decisions with strong mimicry. Let’s hope that the trends and technology will soon be spread all around to make our planet greener.
Michel Noujaim – Green Tech Explorer