Yesterday Honda announced the retirement of ASIMO, expressing that the next generation of robots will be adapted to focus on tasks like nursing care.  As we look at innovation in ways we move people around the planet, where is the buzz today, and what is ready to be commercialized next?

As many Americans prepare to embark on a traffic-plagued 4th of July pilgrimage the topic of mobility becomes highly relevant.  It is timely in the automotive industry as incumbents like Ford, GM and Daimler have their big plays and innovation labs like Daimler's Lab 1886.  This lab spans three countries USA, Germany and China and prioritizes the four themes of modern-day mobility including:

  • connectivity
  • autonomous driving
  • electrification 
  • ride sharing

"Car2go is of course one of the best known projects which has grown to maturity with us," explains Susanne Hahn, head of Business Innovation and Lab 1886. 

Beyond the advances coming from the industry giants, cash-rich start-ups around the globe are making major moves in the ride-sharing and personal mobility space.   DiDi in Beijing aspires to be the world's largest operator of vehicle networks, while bike sharing service Mobike reduces congestion, and strives to improve the quality of life in Shanghai.

These innovations do not come without their challenges and opponents.  Three well-funded tech companies in San Francisco, Bird, Lime and Spin disappeared last month.  These scooter companies started local operations without permission.  Fans and foes co-existed, but between cease and desist letters and scooters impounded by the city, alignment with the transportation and infrastructure agencies in the city seemed to be lacking. 

The simple notion of carpooling may be the path of least resistance for now.  BlaBlaCar operates in 22 countries and four continents.  If carpooling creates a unique, personal space for people who might never have otherwise met to engage, BlaBlaCar might be celebrated as a networking breakthrough as well.  The residual social capital that radiates from these services cannot be ignored.

Ola available in India and Australia offers a fleet ranging from bikes to shares to premium SUVs.  They also provide a corporate program and dashboard for streamlining employee travel and expenses.  Ola Play also allows platform partners like Microsoft, Apple and Sony to build high-quality interactive experiences for its users.  This flexible model offers multiple hooks for integration and partnership alike. 

Whether you are approaching mobility platforms as a user or an investor, this is clearly a space of rapid growth and expansion.   As you can see from Honda's CES 2018 preview video, practically all automotive and transportation companies are profoundly focused on human interaction and the creation of platforms and services that bring value to society. Mass urbanization is a persistent trend that is shaping both how we live and the way we work. Our methods of moving about the world must evolve quicker than ever.  Those interested in this topic may want to attend Beyond Smart Cities at MIT Media Lab in September.