Boston Is Emerging as a Center for Mobility Innovation

By Gretchen Effgen

Gretchen Effgen is Vice President of Partnerships at nuTonomy and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Cities and Urbanization. She recently convened the Boston Mobility Roundtable.

This is the fifth in a series entitled The Future of Mobility, a joint project of CommonWealth and Meeting of the Minds.

It goes without saying that mobility – the movement of people and goods – is an incredibly hot space. Start-ups are cropping up across the entire value chain as significant capital is deployed by incumbent strategic investors, mobility-specific funds like Fontinalis and BMW iVentures, as well as general tech funds looking to get in on the action. While headlines debate whether the nucleus of mobility innovation is Silicon Valley or Detroit, Boston’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has not only churned out an impressive array of start-ups but has also attracted established businesses seeking innovation and research talent. The included graphic primarily highlights the mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) players, representing a snapshot of the businesses that are solidifying Boston as a driving force in the mobility space generally.

The region’s strengths as a mobility player are arguably under the radar. Recently, Héctor Naves Sordo visited Boston to investigate the local scene on behalf of Swiss Re, a large re-insurance company that set up a local presence in 2016. Héctor shared his astonishment at the depth and breadth of the ecosystem, “I came to Boston to explore the AVs and IoT technology landscape and was blown away. We hear so much about Silicon Valley as a hub of innovation. It was energizing to discover an East Coast counterpart that is exploring the future of mobility, connected cars and AVs, topics that Swiss Re is monitoring closely as they will impact motor insurance and society in general.” Boston’s own insurance behemoth, Liberty Mutual, also has a group dedicated to future mobility and recently released an open API portal that combines public transportation data with proprietary insurance knowledge to power new products.

Local investors are engaging as well – some have been doing so for several years. Chris Cheever, who leads the Boston office of Fontinalis Partners, a mobility-focused venture capital firm says, “The talent pool here – both academic and entrepreneurial – provides fertile ground for the kind of innovation that is going to take mobility into the next generation and beyond. We recognized this early on, which is why we established our firm with both Boston and Detroit offices in 2009. We’re seeing more investors scouring Boston for mobility opportunities. Of our current portfolio of companies, approximately 25% are headquartered or originated in the Boston area, and as much as 50% have significant operational presence here. It really is a tremendous environment for mobility startups.”

The Boston Mobility Roundtable, an informal coalition of regional private sector companies, came together in late 2016 to support regional visibility and growth opportunities with respect to mobility. Recently, public sector officials from the MBTA, City of Boston, MassDOT and MassPort joined the Mobility Roundtable for an open discussion on the best ways to connect and collaborate. Kris Carter, Co-Chair of the City of Boston Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics said, “We are fortunate to have such a thriving innovation ecosystem in Boston, and we see our role as a champion for the sector and key collaborator in helping unlock new opportunities for the people of Boston. Whether that is providing consultation, test beds, or pilot program opportunities, it’s critical to work cooperatively in providing new mobility choices in an equitable way across the city.”

While transportation programs, infrastructure and norms are largely regional, transportation challenges are universal. Localizing innovative new mobility thinking or concepts for a city’s particular needs can create a ripple effect that expands our collective thinking. Already, mobility enthusiasts from Austin, Washington, DC, Silicon Valley and Detroit have been hand raisers to collaborate with Boston area efforts. Sharing solutions and learnings from programs conducted here (or carried out by Boston-based companies elsewhere) is just one way that Boston can continue to solidify its reputation as a center for mobility innovation.

On June 20, 2017, one hundred and twenty mobility leaders will convene in Cambridge, Massachusetts to discuss the future of mobility in the Boston region at the Boston Mobility Summit. This summit aims to harness the ingenuity and innovation already underway in the Commonwealth as well as the expertise of invited global thought leaders with best practices directly applicable to Boston’s challenges.

This day-long leadership summit will bring together C-suite executives from the private sector and public sector, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs and academics to share local and global best practices applicable to the Boston region. The focus will be on transformative new technologies, policies, financing mechanisms, design and collaboration models with a particular focus on low-carbon and equitable solutions.

If you are interested in attending this invite-only summit, please fill out this application: http://cityminded.org/boston-application.

[et_bloom_inline optin_id=”optin_2″]

Discussion

Leave your comment below, or reply to others.

1 Comment

  1. Ravindra Srinivas Rao

    It is interesting to note that IT is being used to bring about innovation in mobility. There is this fact that no one escape the competition for road space and parking space. There is nothing wrong in owning a car. The issue is the shortage of road space and parking space which leads to congestion and slowing down of traffic. The innovation can reduce the addiction to personally owned cars in a small way and give temporary relief to those using shared vehicles. For a long term plan which addresses the various mobility concerns arising out of the 21st Century commerce needs there is a demand for a New 21st Century Mobility Invention. All governments in all countries are focusing on expensive mass transit alternatives and none of these will help people to give up their cars. It is time for all the countries to get together and pool in their resources to develop a new mobility invention.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from the CityMinded.org Blog

Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology

Smart Cities and the Weather

A study by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in 2008 found that the impact of routine weather events on the US economy equates annually to about 3.4% of the country’s GDP (about $485 billion). This excludes the impact of extreme weather events that cause damage and disruption – after all, even “ordinary” weather affects supply of and demand for many items, and the propensity of businesses and consumers to buy them. NCAR found that mining and agriculture are particularly sensitive to weather influences, with utilities and retail not far behind.

Many of these, disaster management included, are the focus of smart city innovations. Not surprisingly, therefore, as they seek to improve and optimize these systems, smart cities are beginning to understand the connection between weather and many of their goals.  A number of vendors (for example, IBM, Schneider Electric, and others) now offer weather data-driven services focused specifically on smart city interests.

Invest in Resilience Before Disaster Strikes

Investing in at-risk communities before disaster strikes is one of the most cost-effective ways to protect residents and property while increasing their ability to weather the severe storms ahead. At Enterprise Community Partners, our Resilient Communities Initiative works nationwide to strengthen communities and equip residents so they are better prepared for, and able to respond to extreme weather events and other emergencies. We provide technical assistance, grant funding, research and analysis, and build innovative tools to support this goal.

Advancing Urban Resilience One Decision at a Time

The Climate-Smart Cities program at The Trust for Public Land is designed to help cities overcome barriers through a holistic, urban planning approach, bringing a broad range of traditional and non-traditional partners together to develop a common understanding of the needs and opportunities in their communities through the strategic deployment of green infrastructure. We believe that inter-agency and cross-sector collaboration can unlock hidden resources for multiple-benefit, climate-smart green infrastructure for the benefit of the communities who need it most.

Getting Kids Outside to Play: Easier Said Than Done

Research shows that children living in underserved communities are more than four times as likely to lack recreational facilities. This is significant when you consider that 71 percent of youth don’t get the recommended amount of physical activity, and that one in five school-aged children has obesity. The lack of safe places to play is an added barrier to living a healthy lifestyle for these children.

At the U.S Soccer Foundation we aim to bring quality soccer programming and play spaces to more kids. To further expand our after-school soccer program, Soccer for Success, we knew we needed more quality spaces to play the game, especially in urban areas.

Offshore Wind Taking Cleveland Back to the Future

In 2016, Forbes magazine named Cleveland the “Hottest City in America.” However, Cleveland is now 51st in population among U.S. cities, and many of the industries from the glory days are shadows of themselves, have closed, or moved away. So, how does the Hottest City in America attract the best and brightest millennials as well as leverage its legacy of industrialization, entrepreneurship, and innovation to generate jobs of the future?

One way to tap this inherent strength is through the abundant wind resource right off our shores of Lake Erie. Not only can this resource supply an inexhaustible source of clean energy, the fundamental nature of this industry depends on engineering, manufacturing, fabrication, and maritime activities. Lake Erie Energy Development Corp. (LEEDCo) has taken the lead to bring this industry home and make Cleveland a national center. Project Icebreaker, a demonstration project consisting of 6 Vestas 3.45 MW turbines 8-10 miles offshore of the Port of Cleveland, is poised for construction in 2019.

Finding Fresh: How Smart Farming is Impacting Smart Cities

The California economy is currently seeing a spillover of the newest technological innovations from Silicon Valley, into the Central, San Joaquin and Salinas Valleys; adding to the existing base of advancements in precision irrigation, spectral imaging, genomics, environmental, animal and plant sciences, and dozens of other areas of practice. Many of the applications in use in today’s cities will likely find their place on the farm or vineyard, especially when it comes to IoT (Internet of Things) technologies.

The smart city is meeting the smart farm, but the nature of technology necessitates this relationship will be symbiotic not unidirectional. Increasingly, the smart farm will be impacting the smart city. 

Leveraging Technology to Improve Transportation in Nairobi and Beyond

Featuring Jacqueline Klopp

Meeting of the Minds took a few moments to talk with Jacqueline Klopp about using technology to improve transportation in Nairobi and other African cities. She is an Associate Research Scholar at the Center for Sustainable Urban Development at Columbia University and teaches Sustainable Development at Columbia University. Her research focuses at the intersection of sustainable land use, transportation, planning and democratization. She is writing a book on the politics of planning in Nairobi and is taking an increasing interest in ICT and questions of public participation in policymaking around planning. She is also a co-founder of the blog NairobiPlanningInnovations and the Digital Matatus project that mapped minibuses (matatus) in Nairobi and produced the first public transit map of minibuses for the city. Klopp received her B.A. from Harvard University and her Ph.D. in Political Science from McGill University.

Northeast Ohio’s Startup Ecosystem: The Visible & The Invisible

As one of the region’s champions of entrepreneurship, Morgan Foundation has been among the ecosystem builders focusing on startup support for all types of entrepreneurs. The programs we fund help children develop the entrepreneurial mindset, support college students as they conceptualize and launch new ventures, and undergird the services that propel experienced adult entrepreneurs to develop high potential startups.

Northeast Ohio is doing well at concocting its entrepreneurial stew, but we recognize that there is always more to learn. As we prepare to welcome Meeting of the Minds to Cleveland in the fall, we see the goal of this gathering as ideal for the crucible of interdisciplinary thinking that is teeming in our region. We expect that it will throw “gasoline on the fire” and we are anxious to showcase all the great intersections brewing in and around Cleveland; the blending of medicine with biomimicry, fashion with technology, and 3-D printing with manufacturing!

Digital Disruptions in The World of Mobility: We’ve Glimpsed the Possibilities

The leaders of urban transit authorities and public transport agencies now recognize the need to push simultaneously on several fronts: reduce costs, reduce environmental impact, enhance customer and driver safety, and provide improved passenger services. These leaders are under severe pressure to provide superior passenger services: wi-fi, passenger information systems, and smartphone apps, just to name a few. This means that they must learn to offer a passenger experience that competes with other transportation modes and private transportation companies.

Smart Cities and Artificial Intelligence: Balancing Opportunity and Risk

Steven Hawking recently commented that artificial intelligence (AI) would be “either the best thing or the worst thing ever to happen to humanity”. He was referring to the opportunity that AI offers to improve mankind’s situation, set alongside the risks that it also presents. These same competing possibilities apply no less when AI is considered in the context of smart cities and the planet’s growing urbanization.  With smart cities, though, this is not just some abstract balance: there is a genuine choice of path to be made as smart cities and AI evolve together. This article explores the choice.

Let’s Not Get Run Over by Major Transportation Trends

As we look back on the auto revolution since 1945, we have spent trillions of dollars on cars and related infrastructure. These investments transformed our country and greatly assisted us to an unprecedented level of prosperity. Yet there are many things we would no doubt do differently with 20/20 hindsight to shape the use of cars in relation to other modes of travel and in relation to the urban forms we want to live in. As we look on in amazement at the current technological prowess on display in the auto and mobility industries, it is important that we learn from the automobile revolution of the last 75 years. We can learn from the past to shape new developments to meet shared goals as these technologies unfold, rather than suffer the impacts of unintended consequences. 

Meeting of the Minds is made possible by the generous support of these organizations.