Navigant Research Blog

With Self-Driving Cars, We’re All Cartographers

— December 5, 2016

Connected VehiclesMapmaking used to be the domain of a select group of cartographers that would gather, review, and plot out data onto sheets of paper. The chances that you actually knew a cartographer in the past were probably pretty slim—but not anymore. Today and in the future, virtually everyone is or will be a contributor to the increasingly detailed maps that represent the world we live in.

As our vehicles become increasingly automated, they need ever more detailed maps, and not just the maps we get from Google or Apple on our smartphones. The self-driving car will need much more information. The basics of street names, directions, and building numbers are just the beginning determining a basic route from where a car is to where its user has asked it to go. This data set already exists in every vehicle with a navigation system and a GPS receiver.

Limits of GPS

However, if you’ve ever tried to navigate around urban canyons in places like Manhattan or Chicago, you’ve no doubt experienced the limitations of GPS as the signals orbiting more than 12,000 miles above the Earth’s surface bounce between skyscrapers. Looking at the navigation display and realizing that the car thinks it is several city blocks away from your actual location is not exactly confidence-inspiring.

Even when it works correctly, GPS is only accurate to several feet, not nearly precise enough to safely locate where a car is on the road. Then there’s the problem of navigating around on streets when you can’t actually see the road, such as when it snows. If you can’t rely on GPS for precise positioning and you can’t see lane markers, you need other data to calculate location.

Crowdsourced Maps

That’s where the future of crowdsourced mapping comes in. If you use smartphone-based navigation apps like Waze, Here, TomTom, or Google or Apple maps, you are already contributing to augmenting the map data that is also collected by fleets of sensor-equipped vehicles that drive the world’s roads.

In the near future, the cameras and other sensors that power lane keeping systems and other driver assist features will be feeding information to datacenters where it is aggregated with information from other drivers. In addition to real-time traffic and road conditions, they will be looking for landmarks like bridges, signs, buildings and more, and anything that isn’t already in the high-definition map will be uploaded.

Mobileye is the leading maker of image processing and recognition systems used by automakers for driver assist. In January 2016, the company announced a new product called Road Experience Management that processes images captured by car cameras and sorts out new information. This data is then transmitted and collected in order to update maps. Earlier this year, Ford invested in a startup called Civil Maps that is developing a similar system using cameras and any other sensors on the vehicle that can provide relevant data.

Even when the vehicle sensors can’t see the road, if they can see landmarks, they can triangulate and calculate position to within a few inches. Last winter, Ford demonstrated the ability to do precisely this with its autonomous prototype using a high-definition map generated using LIDAR. The future ability of autonomous vehicles to successfully operate in varied conditions will depend in large part on the contributions that we all make toward improving the quality of maps.

 

Smart Cities Week Highlights the Market’s Transition from Technology to People

— October 6, 2016

CarsharingA key theme reiterated at Smart Cities Week in Washington, DC was the recent evolution of the smart cities market to focus prospective projects more on people and how they would be affected by new technology, rather than the technology itself. As stated in one of my previous blogs, one of the keys to Columbus, Ohio winning the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Smart City Challenge and beating out the better-known technology centers of San Francisco, Austin, and Denver was the city’s ability to demonstrate that its plan would result in increasing poor residents’ access to new transportation options.

Keynote speakers at the conference also discussed the White House’s recent announcement that it will be providing an additional $80 million for smart city projects in response to the enormous interest that the DOT Smart City Challenge received. The majority of the new funding is expected to go toward the National Science Foundation.

Transportation and Economic Opportunity

Transportation as a connection to social inclusion was another key focus area of Smart Cities Week. US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx stated, “We have an opportunity … This is the first time in the history of our nation that we have a chance to build a transportation ecosystem that isn’t weighed down by exclusions, but is built on inclusion.” Again using Columbus as an example, the city is developing an app that would enable residents to pay for a multitude of transportation options (i.e., public transit, ride-hailing, and carsharing) through universal fare cards, with kiosks being set up in poorer communities to allow residents without smartphones or bank accounts to still have access to mobility services. Connecting to the socioeconomic challenges of cities is an important element in gaining citizen support for smart city programs.

City Infrastructure Under Transformation

As cities around the world continue to reach a boiling point in terms of traffic congestion and a lack of parking availability, smart city solutions have the potential to completely transform city infrastructure, improving quality of life and increasing the efficiency of cities. Low-cost autonomous ride-hailing programs could remove much of the need for excessive personal vehicles on the road and alleviate ubiquitous on-street parking. New spaces for walking and bicycling would be opened up, transforming the city into a more inclusive space, with low-cost transportation options for all residents.

 

Mobility Services Target Driving Less (or at Least More Efficiently)

— September 1, 2016

CarsharingThe problem of urban congestion includes both too many cars simultaneously on the road and too few places to park them. New mobility services from Ford and Lyft are using data analytics and last-mile ridesharing to solve these twin challenges.

Increasing urbanization (82% of people now live in urban areas in North America, according to the United Nations) is intensifying the pressure on city streets and roadways and encouraging more urban dwellers to forego owning a car because of the expense and hassle of finding a place to park. Realizing that vehicle sales to city residents may start to flatten, automakers (including Ford) are diversifying their revenue streams with mobility services.

The recently unveiled FordPass app enables any car owner to pre-book a parking space in garages in more than 160 cities. FordPass also includes phone access to humans to help customers get around in traffic or find other mobility options, and the company also opened its first FordHub mobility storefront in San Francisco. When you also consider the company’s FordPay payment service, it’s clear that the automaker isn’t afraid to borrow from a certain Cupertino company’s playbook. (What’s next, the iFordFone?)

Autonomous Future

Ford also continues to march toward releasing a fully autonomous vehicle. The automaker recently invested in lidar manufacturer Velodyne’s autonomous sensing technology. Ford also announced its intention to produce a fully autonomous car by 2021 for use in ridesharing services. Uber, Lyft, and many other companies see taking those pesky compensation-seeking drivers out of the equation as the future of ridesharing.

Navigant Research forecasts that annual mobility services revenue will reach $4.8 billion in 2020. Automakers will play a significant role in these services, which include carsharing and ridesharing services, congestion charging programs, EV charging services, intelligent traffic management, and smart parking systems.

Smart Urban Mobility End-User Services Revenue by Region, World Markets: 2015-2024

Mobility(Source: Navigant Research)

If an autonomous vehicle is electric, it would reduce urban emissions while also addressing the problem of limited parking. If used to get people to and from mass transit stations, ridesharing programs can reduce the overall vehicle miles traveled by removing trips into the city core. Such is the case in the Denver suburb of Centennial, where light rail customers can request a free Lyft ride if they live near the Dry Creek train station. While using tax dollars to put people in private cars may seem counterintuitive, if it increases the utilization of light rail, it can be viewed as a net positive in solving the last mile challenge and reduce the cost when compared to limited-use bus services. Employees who work for XOJET, which provides luxury rides above the clouds, can also now access Lyft to get to and from their hotels and airports while they are accommodating the jet-setter crowd.

 

Multi-modal Apps of the Future Pay Customers to Reduce Congestion

— April 15, 2016

CarsharingPreviously independent modes of transportation such as walking, bicycling, train, bus, taxi, ridesharing services, and personal vehicle usage are becoming increasingly integrated. Multi-modal programs that allow city residents to plan trips using a variety of transport options is one of the major trends in the evolution of the smart city mobility market. Application services such as CarFreeAtoZ and TripGo allow users to plan a trip with up to five mobility options and combinations (train, bus, car, bicycling, and bike-share). Other services such as the GoLA app (powered by Xerox) integrate planning options to include carsharing (Zipcar) and ridesharing (Lyft) services.

Multi-modal apps allow customers to choose the most efficient routes possible to save on commute times. Most apps also include information on the carbon emissions of the trip combinations and options, allowing users to make more informed decisions about how their trip may affect the environment.

New Apps with Big Potential

A prototype transportation app called NextCity looks to not only help users plan their commutes, but also help them get discounts on transportation options that help to reduce vehicle congestion. Users will be offered incentives to change their transportation route based on traffic conditions. For example, the app might offer a discount on the ferry or train if there is construction or an accident on a typical driving route.

NextCity is unlike some of the startups in this space that lack the infrastructure connections and financial backings to make a significant impact. The app is a project of San Diego-based Cubic Transportation Systems (CTS), a subsidiary of Cubic Corporation. CTS is a leading integrator of transportation payment and information solutions and already powers major payment systems such as London’s Oyster card, Chicago’s Ventra card, and San Francisco’s Clipper card. The baseline of public transportation data available to CTS, combined with the current operation of public transit payment systems, enables the company to not only help with route planning, but also integrate and adapt payment systems. The company’s goal is to develop the NextCity app as quickly as possible to create a single-account system covering payment for all modes of transportation (including bikes and bike-share, ridesharing, tolling, parking, etc.).

While many route planning apps are helpful to users and are increasing in adoption, adding a financial incentive to users is expected to significantly increase participation among city commuters. It’s one thing to be informed of alternative transportation options—it’s something else entirely to be paid to use them.

 

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