Category Archives: Transportation

The Hot New Thing in Dockless Electric Scooters: Docks

If you love me, you’d dock your scooter properly. Courtesy of Swiftmile


Laura Bliss
Laura Bliss, Staff Writer at CityLab (Transportation and Technology)   Mar 13, 2019

Cities are desperate to tame the sidewalk chaos of the e-scooter industry. One startup offers a solar-powered parking solution.


To understand the promise and peril of dockless scooters, look at Austin, Texas. This week, at least 9,000 of the zippy rentables are scattered on the capital city’s streets during this year’s South by Southwest festival. Nine different operators are vending cheap car-free transportation for the roughly 200,000 festivalgoers that have descended upon the city.That might be great in theory, but mixed with big crowds, car traffic, a general lack of bike lanes, and a ton of free booze, the reality is cluttered sidewalks, tripping pedestrians, and some brutal scooter crashes.Austin, in other words, is experiencing a Class 5 scoot-nado—a particularly intense variation on the shared-mobility disruption that cities nationwide have seen over the last two years. Which is why there’s a growing demand to bring scooter-sharing back to its roots, at least partly: Cities want docks for the dockless.“We’ve all seen the problems associated with these things,” Colin Roche, the co-founder and CEO of Swiftmile, told me as he packed up his company’s booth at the National Shared Mobility Summit in Chicago last week. “But we also know the promise. In high-impact areas, they need to bring some order to the chaos.”
Swiftmile makes parking stations for e-scooters and bikes in support of what it calls a “semi-dockless” operating model. Their docks can pack in up to 24 Birds, Limes, Spins, and Skips in a space the size of a standard parking spot, using individual holsters equipped with anti-theft locks. More than glorified bike racks, the stations also use solar power to charge scooters while they’re tethered. They accommodate virtually all scooter models, and can gather data about vehicle use and condition.The idea isn’t necessarily to bring all dockless scooters in from the wild. In high-scooting cities, Roche thinks the sweet spot is making parking available for about 25 percent of the total fleet, especially in areas with heavy foot traffic where sidewalk space is limited and vehicles tend to get carelessly dumped. With the rest roaming untethered, providers can still reap what are seen as the economic advantages of a dockless system, Roche explained: When rentables are freed from their expensive docking infrastructure, companies can invest in the volume and scale that may be needed to grow ridership. For the sake of comparison, docked bikesharing programs generally cost about $4,000 to $5,000 per bike; electric scooters retail for between $100 and $500.

               Lyft shows off its low-fi docking solution in Arlington, Virginia. (Andrew Small/CityLab)

Roche also maintains that Swiftmile’s charging docks mean vehicles can spend more time in use and require less human labor and resources to get recharged. An analysis by Quartz recently estimated that scooters in Louisville have a lifespan of just 28 days, and that Bird, the largest scooter company in the field, loses $293 per vehicle in the Kentucky metro. “The companies spend 50 percent of their operating costs on getting these things charged,” Roche said. Though he didn’t offer numbers, Swiftmile’s website explains that the pricing model is based per charge, and is designed for savings.

Other brains in the business are starting to advocate for more of a semi-dockless model, too. Kyle Rowe, the head of government partnerships at Spin, said he expects to see more dockless-scooter docks emerge in the congested corridors of the country’s scooter capitals, with the majority of the vehicles still ranging freely in residential areas. And Caroline Samponaro, the head of bike, scooter, and pedestrian policy at Lyft, believes that docks should be available for entire fleets of shared scooters and bikes. “What a dock does is mimic that idea of a public transit station,” she said. “It creates a predictable way for people to engage with this mode.”

Lyft, which owns Motivate, the country’s largest docked bikeshare operator, also rents dockless scooters in several cities, and is demoing its own parking racks outside a barbershop at SXSW and at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., this week. Lyft’s racks don’t offer charging, and aren’t formally deployed in any city yet. But they create an opportunity for Lyft to talk about the benefits with interested parties, Samponaro said.

They also offer a way to address the safety concerns and injury lawsuits that have beset the nascent industry. The Washington Post reported this week that an 87-year-old woman in Santa Monica is considering suing Lyft after suffering a fall over a wayward scooter lying in the sidewalk. Some cities, including Santa Monica, Seattle, and Austin, have already tried other ways to contain the devices, such as spray-painted sidewalk “bird cages” and coned-off street “corrals.”

It’s too soon to say if such cosmetic interventions are quantifiably helping with safety and clutter, but anecdotally, at least, “they’re not hurting,” said Francie Stefan, Santa Monica’s acting chief mobility officer. “It’s helpful to have some sense of order and give people an idea of where the devices belong.”

Not everyone believes that the future of shared mobility involves re-embracing the dock. A parking and charging station might sound simple enough to install, Stefan said, but the devil may be in the details: Can solar batteries hold enough charge to keep scooters in action? Who will pay for the electrical bills if not, once the stations are wired into the street?And others believe that additional costs of adding all these smart charging docks will make the already-dodgy road to profitability for the scooter industry even more challenging to negotiate. “Docks look pretty, but they’re really costly and hard to adapt,” said Dawn Goodyear, a community engagement specialist for the dockless mobility startup VeoRide. “The ridership won’t be there if we go back the way we came.”

About the Author

Laura Bliss

Laura Bliss  @mslaurabliss  Feed

Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation and technology. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles magazine, and beyond.


Texting or chatting while walking, the new phone addiction you need to stop

James Wanzala , Reporter for the Standard Group (StandardMedia, StandardDigital News)
20th Jan 2019 00:00:00 GMT +0300

You might have been hit by a person busy chatting or texting as he or she walked along the street. Or, you might have seen someone hitting a pole, a transparent window or falling into a pool of water while using the phone while walking. This is the new smartphone addiction that experts are warning is costing people their lives or leaving them with injuries. Experts now say distracted walking is a growing problem around the globe, as people of all ages become more dependent on electronic devices for social and professional engagements. The advent of smartphones that comes with social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram has accelerated this problem. Multitasking is common, and can be dangerous if one is not careful. “The phone distracts you from minding your safety while walking. We used to call out the youth for this behaviour but now it spans nearly all age groups,” says Sam Wambugu, an information specialist. Authorities in some countries have come up with laws to curb texting or chatting while walking. In South Australia for instance, the Under the Road Traffic Act states that a person “must not walk without due care or attention or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road,” lest they face a $105 (Sh10,500) fine.

Banned texting

In 2012, Fort Lee, a municipality in New Jersey, banned texting while walking. Violations come with an $85 (Sh8,500) ticket. Back home, the National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) traffic rules only prohibit a driver from using a phone while driving, which sets him back Sh2,000. According to a study published in 2012 by researchers from New York’s Stony Brook University, 60 per cent of people texting while walking veered off their walking path. Over a decade’s time, texting and walking has caused more than 11,100 injuries. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedestrian deaths numbered 5,376 — and were the only group of road users whose fatality numbers increased. A report from the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons also revealed that 78 per cent of American adults believe that distracted walking is a serious issue — but only 29 per cent owned up to doing it themselves. Our brains have evolved to focus attention on primarily one task at a time, a phenomenon psychologists refer to as inattention blindness. Wambugu adds: “People get carried away while texting and miss their flight at the airport because they become oblivious of their surroundings despite repeated calls to board the plane. Some people text while riding on a fast-moving boda boda, possibly another reason for increased road accidents.” Sociologist Kiemo Karatu agrees that chatting and texting while walking is a life risk and a solution must be found. “A lot of us are oblivious of the dangers we are exposing ourselves to. Inability to know when to stop doing two things at the same time is the challenge,” says Karatu. He proposes creating awareness probably through posters on the dangers of using one’s phone while walking. The Washington DC-based Safe Kids Worldwide organisation report dubbed Walking Safely, A Report to the Nation in 2012 found that pedestrian deaths among teens aged 15 to 19 now account for about 50 per cent of pedestrian fatalities. The study discovered that one in five high school students were found crossing the street distracted either by texting, playing video games or listening to music. “We suspect one cause of this disturbing trend is distraction; since the increase in teen injuries seems to correlate with the prevalence of cell phone use, both among walkers and drivers,” says Kate Carr, president and CEO of Safe Kids Worldwide. Just like children at school are taught how to wash their hands regularly to stay healthy, Wambugu says healthy use of the now ubiquitous mobile phones and other hand held devices may be an important addition.

The country’s first regular commercial drone delivery is here

By Adele Peters, Staff Writer for Fast Company  3.26.19

UPS and drone delivery company Matternet are working together to help a hospital network get samples to the lab faster.


When a patient at a surgery center in Raleigh, North Carolina, has their blood drawn, a drone now delivers the sample to a central lab for testing. The new delivery system, launched at the WakeMed hospital and campus, is the first regular commercial drone delivery in the United States.

Until now, any samples from outlying clinics in the healthcare system had to be delivered by a courier making multiple stops on the way to the lab along a route that can take as long as three hours. “Even samples marked ‘stat,’ or urgent, which follow a more direct route, can take up to an hour for delivery,” says Stuart Ginn, an ear, nose, and throat surgeon and medical director for WakeMed Innovations, a team that works on implementing and accelerating creative solutions within the healthcare system. “This transit time means a longer delay for the clinician awaiting results for their patients.”

Image: UPS/Matternet

Matternet, the drone delivery company partnering with UPS to provide the service for WakeMed, already operates a similar system in Switzerland. In one recent case, a patient with a heart condition went to the emergency room at a regional Swiss hospital in the evening, after the hospital’s onsite lab had closed and couldn’t test his blood sample. In the past, the hospital would have used an ambulance to deliver the sample to another hospital nearby, in a journey that could take an hour. The drones made the trip within 15 minutes, and saving that time made a meaningful difference in the patient’s treatment, Matternet says.“Fundamentally, our system gives fast, very predictable access,” says Andreas Raptopoulos, founder and CEO of Matternet. Health systems with sprawling campuses can start to centralize services like labs or pharmacies, rather than duplicating the same services in multiple locations. Remote clinics can save costs by relying on more distant labs rather than maintaining their own lab onsite. Those that currently use couriers, like WakeMed, can avoid delays in traffic.

The drones can help by “extending the capabilities of smaller facilities within the healthcare network by potentially expanding what is ‘on the menu’ in terms of testing capabilities at facilities that would otherwise not support onsite laboratory services,” says Ginn. “A larger goal for healthcare service-delivery design going forward is to shape the services we provide around our patients’ needs, pushing services into the community so that we can care for our patients when and where they need it. This is a technology that could make that economically and logistically feasible in ways that have so far eluded healthcare systems.”

Image: UPS/Matternet

In Raleigh, WakeMed staff now load drone containers with medical samples at a facility and hand that to a drone pilot from Matternet, who loads the drone. The drone, which can carry up to five pounds, flies along a predetermined flight path to a landing pad at the main hospital where the main pathology lab is located. The first route now runs from the healthcare system’s surgery center to the lab, and other routes will be added over time; while the first route is short, at about one-third of a mile, it still takes around half an hour with a courier, versus three minutes with the drone. (The other routes that the drone will fly in the future will be several miles long.)The delivery service is part of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, a program that works with companies and local governments–in this case, the North Carolina Department of Transportation–to study how drone technology can be used and safely integrated. As the WakeMed service operates, the partners will be demonstrating how the drones can fly safely over a city and stay separated from other air traffic such as helicopters. Matternet, which has proven the economic viability of the service in Switzerland, will also work with UPS to validate the business case for U.S. hospitals and clinics to use the service. UPS, which already works on logistics with healthcare organizations, previously partnered with another drone startup that makes medical deliveries in Rwanda.

While others are still working on drones to deliver packages or pizza, Matternet saw medical delivery as a way to best showcase the potential of the technology. “We feel very strongly that there’s so much inefficiency in how medical systems are run when it comes to logistics,” says Raptopoulos. “Now there’s tremendous benefit we can bring.”


About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world’s largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley.


Tesla is proof that the next 20 years in the tech industry won’t be like the last 20

I can see the future. Mike Blake/Reuters


By Matthew DeBord, Senior Correspondent, Transportation for Business Insider  Mar 30, 2019

Opinion banner

  • The first few decades of technology innovation have been characterized by rapid growth and quick profits based on low headcounts and low capital outlays.
  • The next few decades will require much larger headcounts and massively larger amounts of money.
  • If you have doubts, just look at Tesla and Elon Musk.

Tesla is 15 years old, and despite its considerable struggles and internal and external dramas, Elon Musk’s electric carmaker remains a Silicon Valley darling and is widely admired in the traditional auto industry.

None of that means the company is getting better at its core function, which is building cars. Tesla has improved drastically on this front, but compared to other automakers, it’s gone from what I would say is an “F” to managing a “C.”

That’s because large-scale manufacturing is difficult. Musk knows this and often points to Tesla’s aspirations to reinvent the process as the thing that will ensure the company’s legacy.

But what Elon knows is largely ignored by Tesla’s most enthusiastic supporters, and it’s now broken free and appears to be moving menacingly toward Uber and Lyft as those high-expectation startups IPO.

The basic issue is one of scale combined with speed. I’ll give you an example, drawn from a company I know pretty well. Business Insider started out with a few guys in a borrowed loading dock in New York City, hammering out blog posts on tech and the markets in 2009. Ten years later, BI is the biggest business news site in the world, with far-flung global offices. We were acquired by Axel Springer, a German media conglomerate, in 2015, for about $450 million, and since then our growth has been impressive by any measure.

But our central New York operation fits on two office floors in lower Manhattan, and while we employ a large number of journalists relative to many other digital media sites, we’re pretty far from Tesla’s headcount of around 40,000. A classic example is Instagram, which was bought by Facebook in 2012 for $1 billion, when the photo-sharing app had 13 employees.

The problem is getting worse

Lyft founder John Zimmer
Lyft Co-founder John Zimmer.
John Sciulli/Getty Images for Lyft

Uber and Lyft have some structural similarities — the tech side can be run by a relatively small number of high-value software engineers and managers — but the “on the ground” part of the business requires a staggeringly expensive army of human drivers, as well as capital investment in cars, which are a depreciating asset. If I were to transfer this model to BI, we’d all be creating the publication as we do now, writing a number of stories every day — then printing them all and distributing the results by hand. Our business plan would be worse than the one it’s replacing, daily newspapers.

I could go on. Apple is having a tough time figuring out what it’s next awesome product will be. The Apple Watch has a done OK, but it’s no iPhone. The much-discussed Apple Car project has reportedly changed from an actual car into a self-driving software project; meanwhile Alphabet’s Waymo has spent a decade on the problem and is just now getting self-driving cars on the road in a commercial application.

You get the point. The low-hanging, scale-fast-and-cheap fruit has been picked. The internet of things is evolving in herky-jerky fashion. So investors have turned to transportation, largely because everybody needs to get around and because the auto industry is worth trillions worldwide but tends to innovate rather slowly.

Tesla’s ongoing struggles with the real world

tesla factory
Tesla’s factory.

Tesla was ahead of the curve on this trend by a decade, but Silicon Valley is ignoring the carmaker’s struggles. The lesson ought to be that the best way to make (or lose) a fortune in the auto industry is to start with one (Elon Musk basically lost the millions he initially invested in Tesla after he and his partners sold PayPal to eBay, but he was able to reverse the death spiral later in 2008, and the company has grown massively since).

The basic math of the car business is that it demands a gigantic amount of capital to generate an immense level of cash flow, out of which you try to achieve profit margins that could run above 10%. Cash balances don’t rise to Apple or Google levels, but before the tech economy’s economics became the standard, people used to worry about what Ford, for instance, would do when it piled up tens of billions in cash on its balance sheet. Even now, Ford has enough cash to ride out several short, cyclical recessions.

Back to Uber and Lyft. Their balance sheets also enjoy lots of revenue coming in, but the businesses quickly convert a growing topline into a ruinous bottom line because there’s an insatiable need for more drivers. That end of the business isn’t rightsized for anything but the most robust, densely urban environments; an Uber driver outside a place like New York or San Francisco probably can’t get enough rides to think of the job as more than a short-term gig or a stopgap wage.

Driverless cars might remedy this flaw, and that’s why General Motors’ Cruise and Waymo are pushing in that direction. For Tesla, the solution is automated manufacturing, but that’s never going to eliminate 100% of the labor headcount. And thus far, the company’s efforts to roboticize its assembly lines have met the same fate as the industry’s earlier experiments. In fact, Tesla had to build a quickie assembly line under a tent last year to make its production targets — a line that wouldn’t have looked unfamiliar to Henry Ford.

Even Amazon isn’t exempt

Jeff Bezos
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Cliff Owen/AP Images

If I’m feeling especially grumpy, the only tech company that’s using the old model (think: Facebook and Google) and looking pretty solid is the brutally competitive Amazon. This is a company that’s good at experimenting with innovations that don’t reinvent the wheel but gain traction (Echo speakers are no Sonos, but Alexa is winning) and whose buy-everything-from-us strategy has won over consumers in droves. Resistance is futile, as I discovered recently when I needed to buy a tuxedo for an eight-year-old on a few days’ notice.

That said, Amazon doesn’t have a perfect track record (remember the Fire phone?), and it’s starting to get into stuff like airplanes and electric pickup trucks (it invested in startup Rivian not too long ago), so we’ll have to see if the great aggregator of online consumption can make it in the world of large, complicated machines.

If Tesla’s experience is a guide, the ride is gonna be rough. Another example, from my own life. I’m writing this story at home at 9 a.m. on a Thursday, using a high-speed internet connection and Insider’s content-management system. I’ll file it, photos and all, entirely digitally, all from the comfort of my home. The story could be good to go in less than half an hour.

In the 1990s, before the web, when I wrote stories at home, I had to save the file to a 3.5-inch disk and take it myself to the publication that would later turn it into a print product. The writing part consumed about the same amount of time as it does now, but the logistics around delivering the end result added hours. And of course there was still a lot of work for other people to do once my job was done. You don’t even want to know what it was like when everything was written on typewriters and publications were assembled without digital tools (the appearance of a daily broadsheet, in those days, was something of a miracle).

Welcome to the Era of Slow Scaling

Elon Musk
This is gonna take a while.
John Raoux/AP Images

What Tesla has been trying and failing to do is reverse-engineering some more speed into the production of the automobile — to make the physical car more like virtual software. They have been somewhat successful at this, believe it or not (over-the-air software, updates, for example, that can fix things like braking dynamics). But attempting to crack the code of the moving assembly line has been much more difficult.

Many of the future opportunities that Silicon Valley wants to attack are like this: the so-called disruption can take hold and gain investment, but it doesn’t scale fast enough toward profitability. Tesla is exhibit A: In 15 years, the company grew dramatically, but it’s only made money in three quarters since 2010.

Two-decade timeframes aren’t going fly on Sand Hill Road. Even isolated success stories — GM bought Cruise for around $1-billion all-in when Cruise has about 15 staffers, and the company is now valued at $14.5 billion — come with staggering ongoing costs. Cruise’s future investment prospects, for example, come in part from GM’s possession of a multi-billion-dollar factory in Michigan where it builds the EVs that Cruiser operates.

How many venture capitalists want to invest in companies that require a few billion in long-term investment right out the gate?

We’re going to find out because this is what’s coming: the Era of Slow Scaling. And if anybody wants a comprehensive tutorial on how it will go down, there’s no better person to pay attention to than Elon Musk.

Get the latest Tesla stock price here.

This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.


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5G will impact these 10 industries the most (Video)


By Alison DeNisco Rayome, Senior Editor for TechRepublic on March 20, 2019, 6:36 AM PST

Major 5G network deployments are expected by 2020, and the technology will create opportunities across many industries, according to CB Insights.

Highly-anticipated major 5G networks are expected to be deployed by 2020, and will transform a number of industries due to the technology’s ability to provide wider network coverage, more stable internet connections, and faster data transfer speeds, according to a recent report from CB Insights.

5G will also enable the rise in the number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices, along with the amount of data they generate, the report noted.

While 5G sets the stage for new opportunities across many fields, it also will bring disruption to those industries, the report said.

CB Insights identified the 20 industries that 5G will impact the most. Here are the top 10:

1. Manufacturing

5G is poised to help manufacturing production operations become more flexible and efficient, while also improving safety and lowering maintenance costs.

2. Energy and utilities

Critical infrastructure like energy and utilities will benefit from 5G technologies, which could create more innovative solutions in energy production, transmission, distribution, and usage, as well as the next wave of smart grid features and efficiency.

3. Agriculture

Farmers worldwide are using IoT technology to optimize agricultural processes including water management, fertigation, livestock safety, and crop monitoring, the report noted. 5G could enable real-time data collection, allowing farmers to monitor, track, and automate agricultural systems to increase profitability, efficiency, and safety.

4. Retail

More than 100 million Americans made a purchase on their smartphone in 2018, the report noted, and the move to mobile shopping is largely due to the rise of 4G/LTE. The faster speeds 5G will bring will enable new retail experiences like virtual reality (VR) dressing rooms.

5. Financial services

5G will accelerated the digitization of financial institutions, including from internal operations to customer service, the report said. Increased security and speed will allow users to increasingly make transactions instantly on their devices, and make remote tellers a possibility.

6. Media and entertainment

5G will bring about new opportunities in mobile media, mobile advertising, home broadband, and TV, as well as interactive technologies like VR and augmented reality (AR).

7. Healthcare

In the healthcare industry, 5G could increase efficiencies and revenue, helping health systems create faster, more efficient networks to keep up with the large amounts of data involved. The technology could also enable the use of remote monitoring devices to improve health outcomes.

8. Transportation

Transportation systems ranging from public buses to private logistic fleets will gain increased visibility and control thanks to 5G, the report said. 5G will allow improved vehicle-to-vehicle communications, enabling more self-driving car testing. These networks will also help cities gain access to more data around their transportation systems.

9. AR/VR

The future of AR and VR depends on reliable 5G networks, according to the report. These technologies require a less expensive, wider network with lower latency to continue developing and reaching widespread adoption, as they require massive amounts of data processing.

10. Insurance

5G will help insurance agents make more effective decisions, as they will have access to more accurate data, the report said.

You can see the full report here.

For more 5G coverage, check out this TechRepublic/ZDNet special feature: How 5G will transform business.

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