Moonshot recently had the privilege of attending and hosting a booth at the Connexion Mobility Conference hosted by Bosch at the Chicago Connectory (Chicago’s incubator for IoT innovation). We went into the event excited about understanding the many potential far-reaching impacts mobility, including its impact on the circular economy, and walked away with exceeded expectations.

Moonshot hosted a booth which people across many industries and innovation backgrounds visited to talk about how to design IoT products that are lovable and explore thoughts on city mobility. We had many insightful conversations, listened to some great talks and panels, and heard inspiring pitches throughout the day.

Here are our key takeways as well as some food for thought.

Key takeaways:

  1. Micro-mobility is still learning how to exist within all neighborhoods
  • Micro-mobility is still understanding how to address all neighborhood nuances from rural to urban. While the (Chicago Department of Transportation) CDOT’s bike-share program (Divvy) is more wide-spread throughout Chicago, two other micro-mobility modes — scooter programs or walking paths with ensured safety — are still understanding how to distribute scooters and where to build these safe(er) walking paths.
  • For more rural areas where places are more spread out, scooter programs are working to understand if scooters should still be an option and/or if the speed allowances should be increased.

2. Infrastructure is an impediment to the progress of mobility . . . for now

Non-existent bike lanes, limited space for bike stations, disrupted bus lanes (if they exist), sidewalks under construction, and pot-hole ridden roads — these are a few of the apparent and problematic mobility themes that teams of folks are thinking through to improve mobility efficiency especially within more highly populated areas.

3. No single party can provide an impactful solution on its own

  • While this may feel like a no-brainer to many, it still needs to be said: Successful mobility solutions require collaboration across government, private companies, and residents. Companies are having trouble navigating the government’s transit laws and current infrastructure maps while governments are finding it hard to move quickly with legislation and make investments into new mobility practices. If governments and businesses can learn how to collaborate more effectively and share intellectual and financial capital, they can serve their communities with lovable solutions sooner.
  • A plan might look like:

Step 1 — Acknowledge the need for each (private and government) individually.

Step 2 — Work together to co-create a comprehensive solution that delivers value to end users (city residents).

Step 3 — Test your solution with residents by taking advantage of the civic test beds provided by Chicago (airports, roads, buildings, etc.). After all, the residents are the ones that need to be served.

Step 4 — Listen to residents in order to successfully iterate and improve the quality of city communities.

4. The hyperloop primarily only solves long-range mobility

Most believe that the concept of the hyperloop is one of the greatest technological advances in new-age transit, and while the hyperloop is absolutely a wonder and proposes an alternative to flying, it takes on a major infrastructure cost and timeline.

Some big questions still remain:

  • Where are the stops?
  • How many stops can it have before losing too much efficiency?
  • Can the physics of turns be handled and maintained safely?

5. Data and privacy are still a looming concern

Even more data will be collected as we further develop the IoT network to better serve society. With the growing availability of data from sensors, trust and security will be extremely important to ensure that the data we’re collecting is from the correct source and is shared with the intended recipients.

“Our interactions with people are based on social norms. Sharing data will be deemed trustworthy only when everyone creating and using it agree on ethical ideals based on social norms”

Adam Hecktman, Director of Civic Innovation, Microsoft

6. The future of mobility aims for greater collaboration between private and public transit agencies to help solve for last-mile problems

  • People will stop thinking of mobility in terms of simply taking public transit vs. Uber/Lyft as a single option. They will reach their destination through a mixture of buses, cars, bikes, and scooters. This scenario opens the door for integrated services across all modalities that can benefit users with enhanced data and user-experience capabilities.
  • Metropolitan areas see the highest density of micro-mobility options. But people don’t view them as last-mile options, or options for getting someone from a transportation hub such as a commuter bus station to a final destination. That’s because the transportation hubs are disconnected from the micro-mobility services.

“ A lot of what we should be doing isn’t innovation but connecting the partnerships and facilitating”

Mark de la Vergne, Chief of Mobility Innovation, City of Detroit

7. Autonomous cars are already here-ish…

…in the form of public transport (i.e., you are not driving yourself). Detroit has rolled out May Mobility, the first commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles on urban public streets. In an effort to alleviate congestion and parking issues, the shuttles connect locations in the city’s outskirts with downtown destinations. Initial reactions have not what one would expect: riders have been more concerned about the presence of comfortable seats and cup holders rather than the absence of a driver on board.

Food for Thought

While many shared interesting and inspiring thoughts, there were some questions that persisted, some even posed by the speakers themselves:

  • How do we handle liability with autonomous cars? How do we program autonomous cars to make impossible choices such as protecting a passenger’s life versus the life of a pedestrian when an accident is imminent?
  • When will the hoverboard really exist?
  • With greater understanding of people and animal movement throughout the world, will we better be able to alter our patterns of consumption and resource use?
  • Why are there so many scooter services, and why did they all pop up at the same time?
  • Will the autonomous car bring a resurgence to scenic, leisurely “Route 66” travel off the expressway and embrace the long road trip?
  • Does a “conveyor belt” model for transit of cars or trains make more sense for the future?
  • How would we ever regulate airspace for consumers, not just for enterprises like airlines?
  • Should mobility be considered a civic right?

As with many innovation spaces, it’s hard to really grasp all the complexities and questions before getting there (or at least closer to it). I believe as with all innovation throughout time, societies will learn how to co-exist, regulate, and maintain these extraordinary innovations.

By the end of the day, I and the Moonshot team came away inspired by what we had heard and experiences we had shared with fellow attendees. Now, we’re in the midst of prototyping a new use case for IoT technology and a niche mobility concern with consumers as it relates to the circular economy and city sustainability.

Mark Persaud

Mark Persaud

Practice Lead, Immersive Reality