Investing in Technology for a New Era of Transit
Aug 22, 2023|
We are at the precipice of a new transportation era. By investing in groundbreaking technologies that directly improve the way we move, we not only invigorate our economy, but also steer humanity toward a sustainable and socially mobile future. Eclipse is interested in partnering with founders building in the transportation space.
When Henry Ford revamped automobile manufacturing, the horse and buggy became obsolete overnight and the four-wheeled, gas-powered vehicle rose to dominate mobility. The invention of the general-purpose car ushered us into an era of enhanced transportation and economic expansion — the movement of people and goods became more performant, cost-effective, and safer. Cities grew, travel expanded, and interstate commerce flourished thanks to this widespread new transportation mode. But more than a century later, the state of the world has changed and our current modes of transportation are quickly becoming reminiscent of the horse and buggy.
Our transportation systems are in dire need of an upgrade. According to the Bureau of Transportation Services, transportation accounts for nearly 10% of global GDP, contributing $1.9 trillion in 2021. Despite its economic significance, mobility methods are astonishingly inefficient. Hewing to the status quo means neglecting massive opportunities to build faster, better public transit and affordable, sustainable ride-sharing.
In the same way that we have harnessed the power of electricity to illuminate our lives, transportation should be as effortlessly accessible and comfortable — for everyone. Transportation serves as the lifeblood of society, an essential element for cultivating an enhanced quality of life for all. We are at the precipice of a new transportation era. By investing in groundbreaking technologies that directly improve the way we move, we not only invigorate our economy but also steer humanity toward a sustainable and socially mobile future.
Electrifying for more efficient, sustainable transportation
Both private and public stakeholders are signaling enthusiasm for an electric future: the Department of Transportation is committed to deploying 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations nationwide by 2030, and global spending on EVs increased by 50% year-over-year in 2022. Electrification allows us to consolidate power generation for greater efficiency and, unlike internal combustion engines, gives customers the choice of where they can source their energy, whether it be solar or diesel. EV architecture is also simpler. With fewer moving parts, there’s less wear and tear and minimum maintenance required. For these reasons, the market is clearly demanding electric transportation.
While EVs are the mainstream focus for making electric transportation universal for consumer use, electrification doesn’t have to apply exclusively to automobile adoption. Historically, battery costs have made marine applications uneconomic, but dramatic Li-ion battery cost reductions driven by EV scale have made high-performance electric boats feasible. Arc is transforming this sector, driven by the belief that electric boats are not only easier to maintain, but also generally cheaper to operate. Arc has developed an electric boat that will reduce the carbon intensity of the recreational boating industry by 85%. And while Arc has started with consumer boats, its mission is to electrify all waterborne vessels. By vertically integrating and designing their vessels with mass production manufacturing in mind, Arc has been able to design, engineer, and produce first-of-their-kind maritime products at a velocity unparalleled in the industry. And, in keeping with what we’ve seen in the automobile sector, the electric boats Arc is producing are just plain fun to operate — Arc is delivering a better product in every way.
Electric transportation is slowly becoming more commonplace thanks to advances in manufacturing efficiency and continued innovation in battery chemistry. The question is how quickly can we build the infrastructure required to meet this demand. The race for electric deployment is accelerating innovation and generating new opportunities for our economy, but many challenges need to be overcome to achieve this scaled vision. Challenges that entrepreneurs will see as an opportunity.
Automating for improved safety and affordability
Self-driving cars have evolved beyond a novel research project and are on the cusp of being an integral solution for global transportation networks. Advanced autonomous solutions provide a unique opportunity to address the labor shortage and increase road and manufacturing safety, while lowering costs. Right now, 1.35 million people are killed in car accidents worldwide every year, and 50% of all road traffic deaths involve pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists. Investing in automation will drastically decrease that number; our goal as a society should be to drive it as close to zero as possible. To this end, software for autonomous vehicles is designed to improve general road safety. Wayve utilizes embodied AI software and machine learning so vehicles can constantly monitor the road, identify and respond to hazards, and prevent accidents caused by negligent driving. The company currently aims to be the first to deploy AVs in 100 cities globally by taking a different approach to self-driving than other players in the market. “Rather than building a system that is told how to behave and drives through a fixed set of rules with a very complex sensing and compute architecture as is the case in AV1.0, AV2.0 is a paradigm shift to building a system that focuses on improving the intelligence of the system via machine learning,” said Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve.
Similar to electrification, advancements in autonomous transportation extend beyond automobiles. Reliable Robotics is on a mission to transform how people and goods are moved around the world with safer, more convenient, and more affordable air transportation through remotely operated aircraft. Founded by SpaceX and Tesla veterans, Reliable demonstrates through design, analysis, and testing that autonomous aircraft can meet — and surpass — aviation safety standards. With recent approval from the Federal Aviation Association (FAA), Reliable is now testing and certifying its automated aircraft systems, with plans to scale within three to four years and expand into passenger aircraft by 2030. In addition to safety, Reliable’s founders hope autonomous aircraft will unlock environmental benefits, like electric, hybrid electric, and more efficient modes of propulsion, reducing the overall carbon footprint of aviation.
The synergy between technology and policy, industry, and innovation holds the promise of revolutionizing transportation, forging a future that is more efficient, safer, and ultimately more sustainable. Internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles are incredibly resource intensive and can only convert 16% of the chemical energy in gasoline into locomotion, according to Princeton University. Autonomous vehicles present the opportunity to decouple the human from the car, increasing utilization and efficiency overall.
As this rapidly advancing technology matures, the technical and operational teams working to develop groundbreaking solutions must be willing to collaborate with policymakers — hasty changes cannot be made in such critical and complex environments. Cohesive partnerships with forward-thinking industry incumbents that understand the existential need to integrate differentiated technologies into their operations will be indispensable for survival and growth.
Optimizing to enable social mobility and greater opportunities for equity
In the past decade, the rideshare transportation revolution caused a sea change in consumer behavior: convenience, transparency, ratings, and reliability. The American ride-hail and taxi market is expected to reach ~$72B by the end of 2023, thanks to mobile computing, cloud-scale infrastructure, algorithm optimization, and the utilization of GPS technology inside a portable edge computer. Edge and cloud computing allow organizations to leverage a vast, connected fleet of vehicle assets for on-demand and forecasted transportation. And advancements in software and autonomy are driving the highest level of efficient utilization, for passengers and for parcels.
AxleHire, for example, offers sustainable and efficient expedited delivery services, so high-volume shippers can meet rising consumer needs and expectations without paying exorbitant costs. The customer-centric, purpose-built delivery platform leverages modern, proprietary technology that organizes packages into dense delivery routes, and then determines vehicle size based on availability capacity. As a result, e-commerce providers can deliver at next-day speeds, but at ground shipping rates.
Unfortunately, the passenger rideshare market has not achieved this same level of efficiency. Today’s options have become unaffordable for most. After the initial subsidy provided by venture capital dollars ceased, the true cost of on-demand ride-share revealed that it is accessible only by the upper end of passengers. The rest of the population is left with affordable, but inefficient, public transportation services. Daily commutes shouldn’t mean either a sizable proportion of a passenger’s paycheck or four hours and multiple bus connections.
But change is possible, as demonstrated by RideCo. By fully integrating its services into existing fixed public transit, RideCo provides users the most optimized and affordable route. RideCo’s multimodal offerings enable transit to evolve beyond on-demand, point-to-point transportation. With both on-demand and scheduled rider offerings, the overall efficiency for passengers and service operators is maximized. As few as 100 shuttles in a U.S. metro area would meaningfully improve commutes for lower-income individuals. Solutions like RideCo’s will improve social mobility and quality of life, creating opportunities for all families to choose the best place to live, irrespective of where they work.
Tomorrow's transportation is electric, autonomous, and accessible
How we move through the world matters. If we ignore the dire need to upgrade our transportation systems, we accept stagnation, and we forgo opportunities to give back time and money to people who need it most. However, if we do pursue innovation, we gain more than better transportation. Suddenly, opportunities from hypersonic flight, to electric autonomous rail transit, to subterranean tunnels become real and possible. Serious investments of time and resources are required for these advancements. Imagine what the future of transportation could look like: prioritizing space instead of proximity to urban centers; a comfortable, productive, seamless rider experience; never needing to stop for gas again. Most importantly, widespread access would enable economic advancement for everyone. Investing in electrification, autonomy, and fleet optimization now allows us to unlock a better way of life, and a more equitable and sustainable tomorrow.
If you're building in the transportation space or want to talk through an idea, please reach out to me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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