Disruptive transportation technology a topic at VERGE SF 2012
One thing the Internet and technology industry does is to disrupt existing industries, finding inefficient business models, replacing them with more efficient models. This week GreenBiz's VERGE conference came to San Francisco to focus on smart cities and smart transportation. Among the sessions was, yesterday, a conversation about disruptive transportation technologies between Danny Kim, CEO of Lit Motors, Michael Keating, CEO of Scoot Networks, and Nick Allen, CEO of Side.cr (pronounced Sidecar).
Lit Motors is designing an ingenious fully enclosed electric motorcycle that uses a pair of gyroscopes to maintain stability. It's due to go on sale in 2014 and have a 200 mile driving range and speeds up to 100 miles/hr. Scoot Networks is launching a service to share electric scooters, it is a very similar service to the Zipcar car-sharing service but is focusing specifically on electric scooters. Side.cr is a peer-peer ride sharing service allowing service members to arrange rides through a smart phone app.
How are these disruptive? The Lit Motors vehicle is as easy to drive as a car, consumes a lot less parking space, and challenges the assumptions we have about vehicle size and the necessity of owning a full size car just to get around town. Scoot Networks is offering a different model of vehicle sharing, access to mobility, and the necessity of using full size cars to get around town. Side.cr is threatening the traditional Taxi industry so much that the company, as well as three other similar companies, got cease-and-desist orders based on claims that the company is operating a taxi service without having a taxicab license.
Danny Kim claimed that the Lit Motors vehicle will appeal to the mainstream of America. People love motorcycles, and according to their marketing research there is a 15% adoption rate of people entering the show-room putting down a deposit to buy a bike. The attraction is that it is similar enough to a motorcycle that people can easily pigeon-hole it as one, while offering a feet forward seating style and steering wheel that's similar to a car. While there are other fully enclosed motorcycles on the market (like the MonoTracer), the Lit Motors vehicle is the only one using aircraft style gryroscopes to provide stability. According to Kim, the company is already halfway sold out on pre-orders for production, that is slated to begin in 2014.
Electric scooters of the style operated by Scoot Networks offer a 30 miles/hr top speed and perhaps 30-50 miles riding range. The company is focusing on providing service in urban areas where parking is tight, and small scooters are already in use. The service is only running in San Francisco but they are eyeing other cities for expansion already. After renting a scooter you place your iPhone into a docking cradle, and it becomes the dashboard. You do have an iPhone, don't you? According to Keating, they've made the process as simple as possible, however if you are not already familiar with riding two-wheelers it'll take 30-45 minutes for some training.
Casual carpooling is in operation all around the world, with a few semi-formal systems in certain places like the Slug Lines in the Washington DC area. The concept is more formal than simple hitch-hiking, and in many cases involves organized pickup points where riders and drivers are matched up on the spot. However there are issues galore, such as safety.
Side.cr offers a commercial service with drivers, who are hired by Side.cr to provide extra screening. It lets a car owner make use of extra space in their car, and earn money. The company runs background checks on their drivers, plus uses GPS technology to rate the progress of each trip. The company claims it is neither a taxi nor limo service, but a "ride-matching" service. Riders use a smart phone app to request rides, and there is no fixed payment but instead the rider is free to make a donation (or not). It's possible for Side.cr drivers to earn a living salary through the service.
While at the conference I also spoke with Geoffrey Mathieux, the CEO of Tickengo, another ride matching service. Like Side.cr, riders request rides through a smart phone app but beyond that there are a few differences. Tickengo is a peer-peer ride matching service, where the drivers are not "hired" by Tickengo but pop up on their own volition to offer services. Drivers can only earn a limited amount, and payments are negotiated ahead of time with a kind of bidding arrangement.
Each of these offerings are somewhat disruptive to the existing transportation system, while offering environmental benefits as well. The person who wants the comfort and weather-proofness of a car, but drives alone and hates consuming a whole parking space would find the Lit Motors bike a credible alternative to car ownership. Likewise, car sharing services or scooter sharing services, offer access to "mobility" without having to own a vehicle. Similarly a ride-matching service offers access to mobility without owning a vehicle, and provides some social connection in the process with the driver of the car you're riding in.