Boston Is Emerging as a Center for Mobility Innovation
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.
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Spotlighting innovations in urban sustainability and connected technology
The concept of Smart Cities offers the promise of urban hubs leveraging connected technologies to become increasingly prosperous, safe, healthy, resilient, and clean. What may not be obvious in achieving these objectives is that many already-existing utility assets can serve as the foundation for a Smart City transition. The following is a broad discussion on the areas of overlap between utilities and smart cities, highlighting working knowledge from experience at PG&E.
When the idea of smart cities was born, some ten to fifteen years ago, engineers, including me, saw it primarily as a control system problem with the goal of improving efficiency, specifically the sustainability of the city. Indeed, the source of much of the early technology was the process industry, which was a pioneer in applying intelligent control to chemical plants, oil refineries, and power stations. Such plants superficially resemble cities: spatial scales from meters to kilometers, temporal scales from seconds to days, similar scales of energy and material inputs, and thousands of sensing and control points.
So it seemed quite natural to extend such sophisticated control systems to the management of cities. The ability to collect vast amounts of data – even in those pre-smart phone days – about what goes on in cities and to apply analytics to past, present, and future states of the city seemed to offer significant opportunities for improving efficiency and resilience. Moreover, unlike tightly-integrated process plants, cities seemed to decompose naturally into relatively independent sub-systems: transportation, building management, water supply, electricity supply, waste management, and so forth. Smart meters for electricity, gas, and water were being installed. GPS devices were being imbedded in vehicles and mobile telephones. Building controls were gaining intelligence. Cities were a major source for Big Data. With all this information available, what could go wrong?
If you want a healthier community, you don’t just treat illness. You prevent it. And you don’t prevent it by telling people to quit smoking, eat right and exercise. You help them find jobs and places to live and engaging schools so they can pass all that good on, so they can build solid futures and healthy neighborhoods and communities filled with hope.
The concept of urban health is becoming an increasing concern as awareness of the true extent of the issue spreads. Particularly for health services in low and middle-income countries (LMICs), which are already struggling to cope with the burden of infectious diseases, the added pressure of NCDs poses a serious threat.
And yet, this does not need to be the case. There is positive work that can make an enormous difference to the health of city-dwellers. We need to close the gap between awareness and action, recognizing cities’ potential enabling features to address public health issues.
Featuring Roger Behrens
Meeting of the Minds talked with Roger Behrens about planning for hybrid urban transportation systems that include both formal and informal transit services. Roger is an Associate Professor in the University of Cape Town’s Department of Civil Engineering. He is Director of the Centre for Transport Studies, and of the African Centre of Excellence for Studies in Public and Non-motorised Transport (ACET). He graduated with a Master Degree in City and Regional Planning from UCT in 1991, and with a PhD degree in 2002. His current research activities relate to: the integration and improvement of paratransit services; the dynamics and pace of changing travel behavior; the use of transport systems by pedestrians; and the urban form prerequisites for viable public transport networks.
As two officials of a distressed public agency facing down the consequences of a long history of underinvestment, we are acutely sensitive to the need to get things done on a budget. We are also technologists, which brings us to the idea and potential of digital placemaking for mobility infrastructure: the repurposing of web, mobile and other software and hardware tools to bring new value to the places around the physical nodes and artifacts of the transit system.
Digital tools are often limited to a public engagement role in placemaking. We believe that they can play an important role in transit agency efforts to make its physical infrastructure work better for people.
Infrastructure is a place where climate action, business interests, and political will have the potential to intersect. Infrastructure investment tends to be a bipartisan, business-friendly policy, in large part because the need is so great. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that the United States will need to spend $3.6 trillion between 2010 and 2020 to simply maintain our current transportation, water, and energy infrastructure. Yet there is an estimated funding shortfall of $1.6 trillion, or approximately 45% of the total requirement. In the American Society of Civil Engineers’ Infrastructure Report card, most infrastructure categories received a D+, with only one category, solid waste infrastructure, receiving a B- or higher.
Unlocking the tech sector’s potential in Chicago (and beyond) means confronting segregation and inequality.
The tech field suffers from a costly cycle of inequity. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that, compared to other private industries, high-tech companies hire a disproportionate number of white people and men—68.5% and 64% of employees, respectively. Meanwhile, the STEM workforce in the U.S. is projected to grow exponentially; already, in job-rich Cook County and DuPage counties, tech jobs grew 14% and 18% between 2009 and mid-2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. As the city’s tech sector grows, so might inequality—unless more leaders like Sales-Griffin step up with creative interventions. Today in Chicago, just 12% of Latinos and 20% of African-Americans have bachelor’s degrees, compared to 44% of whites. The diversity talent gap threatens the tech sector’s vitality.
As cities grapple with urban growth and climate change placing more people and economic activity in harm’s way, the resilience of critical infrastructures, and of the assets that make up these infrastructures, is coming increasingly under the spotlight. However, this is a complex issue, and not all its dimensions are well understood. This article attempts to explore them.
Cities can be thought of as “systems of systems”, where energy, water, communications, transportation, healthcare, law and order, data, and other physical systems (not to mention social, political and economic systems) interact. From this perspective, many issues arise.
Some countries and cities can identify their critical systems and assets (it is, for example, a Federal requirement for cities to do this in the US), but very few can identify how they are linked to each other. As a result, they have no way to identify and manage the associated inter-dependencies. In many cases, as with the grid failure example, the existence of these linkages may not even be fully understood by all the entities affected, and accordingly come as a highly unwelcome surprise. Achieving critical infrastructure resilience therefore requires investing time and effort to identify and maintain relevant and up-to-date data on these linkages.
The Los Angeles River is now center stage in discussions of open space and recreation, active transportation, regional watershed management, ecosystem restoration, climate resilience, and public art transforming the LA region. The river winds through 51 miles of industrial lots, open space areas, and residential neighborhoods. In the most populous U.S. County, the LA River has potential to serve millions of people.
Communities around the world are accelerating their response to the current wave of digital innovations and they have good reason to. Digitalization can be considered a critical ingredient in the recipe of our sustainable communities of today and tomorrow – in the broadest sense of the word – economically, socially and environmentally. Digitalization carries the means and the organizational paradigm to not just do things slightly more efficiently, but differently and better. The design shift it affords can help us collectively tackle some of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced, such as climate change, the need for sustainable and affordable energy, fair and sufficient levels of water and food distribution, and education and healthcare for all in a world where the population continues to grow. And of course, it should help us arrive at solutions and services that will allow burgeoning cities to thrive.
Green buildings support the goals of sustainable communities and vice versa. When office, apartment and retail properties are built and managed sustainably, the surrounding neighborhood benefits. Likewise, a community that enables a sustainable, live-work-play lifestyle enhances the long-term relevancy of green buildings within its borders.
These communities often promote job growth by creating environments for start-ups to thrive. In addition, companies in many business sectors are locating offices in sustainable urban neighborhoods in order to attract the college-educated millennials who live there. As they grow, companies lease office space in buildings they believe will help them attract talented employees—and sustainability is an important part of that appeal.