Innovation Trends

PDXchange Recap: Connected Mobility & the Moonshot Dare


I was recently a panelist at the C3 Connected Mobility PDXchange event. We discussed everything from autonomous cars, to smart monitors for babies, to the ethics of new technology. It was a great opportunity to learn from a wide range of experts within the mobility space, but what really stood out to me is that there are so many more questions surrounding the future than there are ideas around solutions.

There were, however, some cool examples of where new technology in the mobility space can take small steps toward making the world a better place.

As an example, the startup BabyBit is partnering with Jaguar Land Rover to prevent the heatstroke deaths of children in automobiles. If a child is left in a car, the air conditioning system could automatically turn on to prevent overheating. There are countless examples of small companies like BabyBit who are building single-point solutions.

The real challenges are seen when we look at the ecosystem as a whole, and especially when we start talking about infrastructure improvements.

Recently, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx was in Portland as part of his tour of the final seven cities being considered for a $40 million “smart cities” grant. He said,  “Too often in these programs we think incrementally. But this is really a time for moonshots.”

I agree. By continuing to make small, incremental changes, we are ensuring a continuation of disconnected, disparate systems. It’s time to start the work of reinventing our transportation infrastructure with a focus on the connection between technology and community. It’s time to think big.

Making a monumental change in how we think about mobility will require innovation in how we build products and systems. New business models need to be explored and new types of partnerships forged. Public-Private Partnerships (P3s) have seen success around the world but still remain untested here in the U.S.; constantly changing political environments, big divides in federal and state funding, competing motivations and lack of ownership all play a role.

As new types of partnerships are explored, these key challenges need to be considered.

  • Government moves too slow and technology companies move too fast. Procurement takes too long, is too burdensome and leaves little room for learning and adjusting. Technology companies often start building before truly understanding the entire impact and are quick to pivot in a new direction. We need a middle ground. While we can’t take a minimum viable product approach to infrastructure changes, we do need to think about how we can build alignment from the beginning, learn as we go, and quickly adjust as necessary.
  • The lack of common language and communication tools. Email, Word, Excel, Sharepoint and countless other standard office utility tools being used to manage these projects simply will not cut it. In order to align around programs of this size and complexity, there needs to be common tools and methodologies used. As decisions are made, real-time impact analysis should be completed and respective parties brought in. There is too much at stake to make changes without knowing who and what will be impacted.
  • Competing priorities lead to misalignment throughout. Get aligned around common goals, be clear about competing interests and work to maintain that alignment throughout the life of your projects. Don’t step in and out of project plans only to check in at the milestones and the sign offs. Be transparent as changes in priorities are made.
  • Data management. There are the technical challenges such as data capture, normalization and fusion, but also questions around who will actually own the data. Data ownership has long been considered a part of a company’s IP. Outside of personal information, I suggest an open-source mindset when it comes to data. Normalize from the outset and move toward common goals to determine what the data will be used for.

We are at an interesting intersection (pun intended). New technology is allowing us to think bigger about what our future can look like, and while we may have more questions than answers right now, we can’t slow down.

We have the chance to reinvent how we approach the future of mobility. This isn’t a time to sit back and wait for all the answers before moving forward. It’s a time to be bold. It’s a time for moonshots.