The Internet of Moving Things

Zipcar founder Robin Chase talks about her latest venture and how it could help improve urban mobility.

September 2016

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Many of us have heard about the Internet of Things or IoT — connecting appliances, security systems and other household and business infrastructure with online technology for greater efficiency and control. Transportation entrepreneur Robin Chase wants us to think about the Internet of Moving Things.

Chase, the co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, now the world’s largest car-sharing company, has co-founded a new venture called Veniam and serves on its board. Veniam is turning vehicles into Wi-Fi hotspots, enabling them to connect to each other and to the internet. The disruptive technology of this company is connecting buses, taxis, trucks and cars with other assets, providing mobile Wi-Fi to passengers, managed services to fleets and ports, and urban data to city governments to help them make their cities smarter and safer. Veniam has systems up and running in New York City, Singapore, and Porto, Portugal. (Two of Veniam’s co-founders are Portuguese, including its CEO, João Barros.)

So where is this road taking Veniam and Chase next?

ACCESS: What are the challenges urban mobility faces going forward?

ROBIN CHASE: The challenges increase daily as we add more people into cities; demand more data from our environment, such as security and smart grid, smart city efficiency; and introduce more real-time shared transportation services like bikes, cars, rides and freight. We recognize the power of connectivity to give us information quickly and easily, transforming business models, lifestyles and civic work. Secure, reliable, ubiquitous connectivity is mandatory to achieve society’s goals and best visions.

ACCESS: What are the economic benefits of improved urban mobility?

R.C.: From the perspective of personal transport, cars cost an average of $9,000 per year to own, operate and maintain, yet we use them only 5 percent of the time. Access to on-demand shared cars, rides, parking, bikes and transit information has totally transformed the cost and ease of getting around cities. People are shedding personal cars, saving as much as $7,000 a year over personal car ownership, with greater mobility.

ACCESS: How can the Internet of Moving Things boost urban mobility?

R.C.: When we envision the Internet of Things, we see a sea of sensors spread across a city’s built infrastructure — homes, offices, light poles and trash receptacles. When Veniam talks about the Internet of Moving Things, we are trying to draw attention to two things. First, that cars, trucks, taxis, ferry boats, helicopters and even drones will necessarily be included in this future network of things. And second, just as the internet is a network of networks, Veniam’s focus is building a network among and between these moving elements. As vehicles with Veniam’s software move through the city, they can sweep up sensor data and push it into the internet. How do we do that? By connecting up cellular, Wi-Fi and vehicle-to-vehicle technology to provide reliable and cost-efficient access to the internet.

Connected urban mobility is hindered by dark holes created by concrete canyons, underground parking and metro tunnels. Cellular networks alone, in addition to being very expensive, have difficulty addressing these problems and are increasingly congested by heavy use from both people and machines sending and receiving data. Veniam provides connectivity by creating dynamic networks — between vehicles, Wi-Fi hotspots and cell towers — to illuminate the black holes, bypass congestion and push through a lot of data at low (often no) cost.

ACCESS: How is Veniam an extension of your work at Zipcar, and how does it reflect a new direction?

R.C.: One way of characterizing Zipcar is that it is a shared fleet of 13,000 vehicles spread across cities and university towns, accessible by every member in a few seconds. This shared infrastructure was collaboratively built (by each member making small reservations in their own locations) and collaboratively financed (by them paying as they go).

I see Veniam as new wireless infrastructure that is collaboratively built and collaboratively financed as well. This time not by individual consumers, though, but by fleet owners, be they trucking, taxi, municipal or public transit. Vehicle-to-vehicle networks are created regardless of vehicle ownership. It is the fleet as a whole that creates and enjoys the network created, and passes the data onward.

ACCESS: Last year, you published your book Peers Inc. Can you provide a few of the economic ideas you discuss in the book, along with how they arose from your work at Zipcar and Veniam?

R.C.: Peers Inc. is about the new collaboration between platforms: the “Inc.” that organizes many small parts, makes complex things simple and empowers the small; and the “Peers,” be they people or devices, that provide localization, specialization and customization.

Zipcar built a platform that gave individuals the power once reserved for car rental companies and their engineers: reserving and accessing cars directly. This platform enabled people to easily share a fleet of vehicles seamlessly and wring inefficiencies out of the system.

So, too, Veniam gives fleets easy access to a sophisticated, heterogeneous network. Both companies unlock economic inefficiencies and allow for multipurposing of the devices. For Veniam, this means collection, transmission and analysis of any kind of data, both from within the vehicles as well as the smart city around them.

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