Ride-sharing, smart cars, intelligent logistics, IoT sensors for traffic monitoring, electric cars, metro train lines - these are just some of the waves of innovation sweeping the world of sustainable transportation. Cities like Bengaluru feel these traffic problems acutely – can its startups solve these problems, and thereby scale to other Indian cities?
A recent meetup by TiE Bangalore featured over 30 participants from startups, tech firms, automobile companies, NGOs and accelerators. International speakers included Erik Grab from Paris, VP of Strategic Anticipation and Innovation, Michelin Group.
Bengaluru has a number of startups with traffic, transportation and logistics solutions: e-vehicle fleets, multi-modal route-planning apps, corporate car pooling, IoT security, courier aggregation, traffic cameras, smart road dividers, shared bike exchanges, government data analytics, energy monitoring, and congestion alleviation.
The accelerator NUMA has launched a Data City initiative to promote data sharing within urban areas for better urban services. TiE Bangalore has helped launch a range of centres of excellence with the Karnataka government, in domains such as IoT, data science, AI, and cyber-security. The TiE Bangalore meetup suggested that a Centre of Excellence in Transportation-Tech should also be set up. Here are some other takeaways from the wide-ranging discussion at the meetup.
Collecting information from automobiles and sensors is not as a major challenge. What is more relevant is ensuring systematic gathering of data by government agencies, usage of this data to solve problems, and to share some of this data with other companies for value-added services.
Accelerator programs need to have many corporates working with single startups, and not just one corporate working with many startups. This would give startups more freedom to innovate and pursue their goals along multiple dimensions.
Some startups have B2B offerings, such as enterprise car pooling or other kinds of aggregated and shared commuting services. It is debatable whether businesses are better paymasters than the government sector, or even more prompt in committing to pilot projects and scaling them.
Many consumers need not just a taxi app but a multimodal mobility solution which can blend metro rail, bus and taxi solutions. Getting reliable real-time data on location of buses and trains is a challenge for startups who want to provide such multimodal apps.
Ecosystem model of engagement
A single government agency or a single corporation (or even an industry alliance) cannot design and build integrated transportation solutions – only a multi-stakeholder ecosystem approach will work.
An innovative example in this regard is the Mobility Open Lab, initiated and coordinated by Michelin. It includes a range of international corporations, startups, public authorities, cities, academics and NGOs. Open Lab organises events and moderates multiple ‘communities of interest’ who are developing innovative and sustainable mobility solutions, eg. parking space management.
Specific communities have time-bound projects for execution, with alignment of vision and resources. Best practices are shared along with other kinds of knowledge assets. Creating something like a ‘tech commons’ for transportation solutions can enable all members of society to access such useful resources in order to build solutions and solve problems quicker.
In a bureaucratic country like India, it may help if a list of go-to points for addressing different transport and urban issues were easily available. This includes reaching out to central authorities, state or local administrative units, municipal bodies, and wards.
Incentivising citizens to reduce peak hour road congestion has been leveraged across many cities, and places like Bengaluru could possibly learn a thing or two from them. Gamification via ‘karma points’ could be useful here.
Employees of large corporates need to be more involved in leading and solving challenges, as they have a lot more access to human resources, funds, know how to scale-up. They also have better access to top decision-makers.
Metrics and impact
Startups in mobility should also develop metrics to show that they are impacting not just commute costs or times, but also improving their carbon footprint. This includes fuel savings, reduction in pollutants, and alternate energy usage.
Other challenges identified in the meetup were moving from pilot to scale stage, and regular forums for connecting with government and sharing emerging technologies and business models. The many shares and learning from execution efforts thus far reveal that Indian cities like Bengaluru have tremendous talent and sustainable solutions via startups. Indian students are also sensitised to these issues; many campuses have project fairs where proposed solutions address air and noise pollution monitoring, aqueducts that prevents flooding, energy harvesting using speed breakers, and even garbage collection notifications.
It is time for government leaders, corporates, investors, NGOs and startups to build a more robust and enabling ecosystem around road infrastructure and traffic. With the help of collective intelligence harnessed at meetups, various stakeholders can be galvanised to build and solve for the better.
The meetup was moderated by Madanmohan Rao, research director, YourStory, and a TiE Charter Member. It was proposed that this meetup gathers every quarter, and collaborate with government representatives also. Suggestions for the next meetup are being crowdsourced (click here), and interested startups can collaborate on winning solutions. Hopefully, 2018 and beyond will see the creative minds of Bengaluru coming together to reduce urban traffic sprawls!
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)