Key Takeaways from TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility

Transportation and technology industry members convened in San Jose last week at TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility. Held at the California Theater, the event featured presentations and panel discussions with leaders from a wide range of companies working to change the way populations get from A to B. 

The majority of these conversations revolved around autonomous vehicles, which can be divided into two categories: self-driving vehicles for people and self-driving vehicles for things. While both categories have plenty of competition, it was interesting to see the differences between the companies striving to create an autonomous vehicle replacement for today’s automobiles. In terms of miles traveled and passengers delivered, Waymo is ahead of the pack thanks to an early start in 2009 as Google’s self-driving car project. CTO Dmitri Dolgov announced a milestone at TechCrunch. “At Waymo, we’ve driven more than 10 million miles in the real world, and over 10 billion miles in simulation,” he said. 

On the other end of the exposure spectrum, you have Zoox— a self-driving vehicle company that has not yet publicly revealed any designs. Jesse Levinson, CTO and co-founder, shared a few details during his session at TechCrunch to help the audience visualize the electric car. Zoox is building a symmetrical, bidirectional robotaxi with four seats facing inward and fully independent active four-wheel suspension. Levinson spoke to Zoox’s environmental impact, noting that building any type of car is hard on the environment and studies show that we’re only using our cars 4-5% of the time. The zero-emission robotaxi will benefit the environment by being electric, but also because it will be capable of being out on the road all day, which means we can make less cars. 

On the topic of less cars, there were also a few sessions focused on micromobility and the last mile. TechCrunch showcased many schools of thought around reclaiming the physical space allotted for vehicles, with more than one speaker noting that there are currently 8 parking spots for every car in the United States. The conference included many representatives from scooters and bikeshare organizations, including: JUMP, Lyft, Scoot, and Skip. Regina Clewlow, CEO and co-founder of Populus, pointed to examples from the Netherlands, where they put focus on pedestrians and bike lanes, and then saw a drop in the number of accidents reported. The audience emphatically supported Lyft’s Head of Micromobility Policy, Caroline Samponaro, for her remarks about using our data-driven knowledge around safety and behavior to make streets safer, while matching that with the demand in cities to get around. 

One of the day’s most highly-anticipated sessions was titled, Uber Takes Flight with Eric Allison, paired with a bio declaring Uber’s goal of flying taxis by 2023 and test flights expected as early as next year. Head of Aviation Programs at Uber, Eric Allison, spoke about the company’s dedication to linking together many modes of transportation into one journey, giving riders the ability to choose. “How do we build out this network of urban air vehicles and weave it into the Uber platform that exists now and make those linkages, so you can have that real multimodal journey with a single button press and single price,” he asked. They’ve studied movement in cities to get an overall understanding of where movement exists, in order to choose the initial locations for their skyport for certain commute routes that have high demand. With these starting and ending points, Uber plans to capture real-time bookings from people in the city and batch them into one trip, continuously and on-demand. These rides will still be one price, end-to-end, as Allison explained, “It’s all about the trip- it’s not about the mode. It’s about the linkage.” 

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