Start-ups must navigate multiple risks to build IoT ready cities, Zachary Wasserman of Via tells Louis Bedigian.

The Internet of Things is expected to change the way consumers interact with their cars, homes and personal devices. The tech is in its infancy but both automakers and tech giants – including Hyundai and Amazon – are working on new ways to ensure consumers stay connected at all times, no matter their location.

As IoT advances, it will inevitably leap ahead of the simple applications consumers may expect at home. Over time it could allow cities to create an interactive, interconnected world in which automobiles are always connected and safety is continuously enhanced. V2V is just the beginning; if cities become smarter, IoT could also have an impact on the way automobiles interact with pedestrians, traffic signs and emergency vehicles.

Zachary Wasserman, vice-president of strategy at Via, an on-demand alternative to traditional buses, is very interested in technology that will allow connected vehicles to reach their full potential. “Everybody likes to talk about the Internet of Things and smart cities,” said Wasserman. “There’s a lot of goodwill and enthusiasm for using technology to make cities safer, more efficient, more environmentally friendly and more livable.”

Wasserman said there are two hurdles – market risks and technology risks – involved in commercialising new technology. “Can you build what you want to build and are people going to buy it?” he questioned. “When you’re talking about government, and you can’t talk about smart cities without talking about government, you also have political risk.”

A proactive approach

To overcome the latter risk, he hopes entrepreneurs will take a more proactive approach to smart city development. Said Wasserman: “I think people in the private sector could really help the government help itself by suggesting ways for the government to efficiently interact with innovative new companies, especially start-ups. People who are buying technologies on behalf of government should use the request for information (RFI) process more liberally.”

Normally a transit agency will go right to the request for proposal (RFP) process. According to Wasserman, this is a problem because of the rapid and dramatic changes occurring in technology. “They don’t necessarily have the latest business intelligence and they don’t know the state of the art,” he said. “Before the RFP, they can actually learn what’s available and learn what kinds of new opportunities they can avail themselves of.”

Wasserman said that transit agencies can also use the unsolicited proposal process to “put the onus on private vendors to propose cool, new ideas to cities.” He added: “That basically constitutes a form of free consulting for cities. Then cities can decide what proposals they want to fund and what proposals they don’t want to fund. I think that would be another way for cities, the government, to make sure that it is taking advantage of all the dynamos and creativity in the smart city space.”

The next phase

Uber and Lyft aren’t the only ride-hailing services that are eager to deploy autonomous vehicles. Via is also keeping a close eye on the way self-driving technology will change mobility.Said Wasserman: “Autonomous driving is going to fundamentally change the way a company like ours does business. We are eager to partner with others who are running pilots and experiments in that space.”

When autonomous vehicles are first deployed, many individuals will ride them just for the novelty. This could increase the number of single-rider trips, which (in terms of pollution and congestion) is equal to that of a person driving solo in a standard vehicle. Wasserman expects that to change in the not-too-distant future. He said that shared vehicle trips are the Holy Grail of autonomous vehicles.

“I think everybody recognises there will be two things that converge,” he said. “There’s going to be more shared mobility and there’s going to be more autonomous mobility. That’s where we come in. We’ve built this system from the ground up to facilitate real-time dynamic sharing on an extremely large scale. We’re very interested in learning more about the autonomous space and participating in autonomous pilot projects with people who are developing the right technology and hardware.”

Carmaker partnerships

In the meantime, Via has partnered with Mercedes-Benz to launch a service using professional drivers. It also has relationships with other automakers but Wasserman isn’t ready to talk about them just yet. For now he is simply excited to see automakers move beyond car manufacturing. “They want to get into the mobility as a service space, and this is a way for Mercedes to experiment with that sort of business model and figure out where it works and what the economics look like,” he said.

Autonomous Vehicle & ADAS Japan 2017

15 May 2017 - 16 May 2017, TOKYO, JAPAN

Autonomous Vehicle & ADAS Japan 2017 is an information and networking platform that brings together key stakeholders in the ADAS and autonomous value chain to discuss the biggest challenges, understand how the technology is evolving, and establish partnerships to enable the next phase of driving safety and autonomy.