Category Archives: smartphone

Echo Loop, MAAS, & Future TRAVEL

When Amazon introduced a novel pinkie ring that activates Alexa through voice commands, they probably didn’t consider its historical significance. The smart ring, called the Echo Loop, is the pinnacle of new technology.

It will take a while for the Echo Loop to become mainstream, but like an earlier wearable, namely the wrist watch, it is a game changer. It has the potential to manage transportation, reduce our reliance on smartphones, and unleash a torrent of connectivity.   It will spur Mobility as a Solution (MaaS) because it  is convenient and familiar.

TRAIN TIME

Many inventions, such as the wrist watch, first emerge as toys or novelties. Initially, pocket watches, “told  much about a gentleman, with regard to his social standing and his place in society.”  It was considered a faux-pas to check the time by pulling out a pocket-watch (on chain) in mixed company.  The pocket watch was as an object of discussion, a status symbol, and a luxury item.

The utilization of this device began to change as more countries developed large national rail networks. In the beginning of rail transport, every city, town, and railroad had their own timekeeping, leading to many train accidents. England adopted “railway time” in 1848  and in 1884 Greenwich Meridian Time became the universal standard. Still, it took a deadly U.S.  crash in 1891, the Kipton Train Disaster, to lead to precise engineered devices here.

THE FIRST WEARABLE 

During World War I supply truck drivers and aviators often received orders with strict time frames to help synchronize military actions.  These men needed timepieces that would let them keep both hands on the controls and check the time. Hence, the wristwatch was improvised and its popularity skyrocketed.  

I believe we have reached a similar technological transition today. In our vehicles, smartphones help optimize route-taking and navigation. However, drivers with hand- hold  phones are at 2 to 3.5 times greater risk of accidents than those with hands-free, voice-activated devices. 

ENTER ECHO  LOOP

This is where the next stage of technology, an Echo Loop  ring, will come into its element. CNET reported that the September, 2019 debut of the Echo ring  had people scratching heads and wondering what they would do with it…. 

“Yet to be discovered” is the potential to make travel planning “screen-free” and simultaneously provide more personalized and up-to-date information through integration with the transportation network. MaaS (mobility as a service) awaits a better technology to become mainstream. 

MaaS  IN A LOOP

The goal of MaaS is to organize seamless fare payment and to integrate timetables and modes. In today’s schema, MaaS combines transportation options from public and private sectors and provides a trip-taker with a customized travel ‘solution’ for each journey. For example, a commuter might take a trip by ferry boat, then get directions to walk to a bus stop, and complete the final leg to the office with a scooter or rideshare. All of these activities, including the booking and payment are handled through a single account. 

Currently mobile phones are the mechanism for creating a multi-modal MaaS trip, but this medium has significant drawbacks. The trip-taker must carry a smartphone and its voice activated commands are likely to be incomplete, and in some cases, unsafe. MaaS, via smartphone, requires a lot of swipes and RFID communications to stitch together a single trip.

ADVANCED JEWELRY

Advanced “jewelry” (the wearable), can bring calm to this endeavor. Imagine that the Loop would function like a wrist watch, executing in the background but behave more like an experienced, helpful companion who knows the route and can enliven it with conversational detail. 

Like the watch the Loop would clarify when to leave for the next ride, how much time to wait on the platform. The ability to perform, and speak customized travel planning will reduce the  reliance on screens. 

Unlike a wristwatch, a Loop could check for delays or changes, and give dynamic step by step directions. It might also reduce congestion by balancing  supply and demand, and help make more efficient use of the network.

And, through the voice commands, it could perform the duties of a personal assistant and reach out to the people or activity at the end of the journey. 

LOOKING BACK…LOOKING FORWARD

Time-pieces, as you will recall, helped lay the groundwork for railroads. If this playbook still holds, then the smart ring, today’s novelty and luxury item, may become tomorrow’s facilitator for a better MaaS, and a transformed means to travel.  

 

 

Will Waze Carpool App Slow Down Uber?


Waze App for Carpools
Waze Carpool App   https://www.waze.com/carpool

Smartphones have accelerated travel information…notifications of real-time traffic, on-demand transit, and, of course, rideshare. But, can a smartphone app crack carpooling?  Waze, a Google subsidiary, developed a carpool app that will look familar to rideshare users, with features like driver name, cost, and arrival time.  Waze is now taking that app nationwide and providing incentives for new signups.

Carpooling has been the transportation “nut” that smartphones have not pried open.  In Los Angeles and most other US cities, only about eight or nine percent of commuters choose to carpool despite numerous campaigns.  I personally worked on TDM (transportation demand management) in Los Angeles and observed carpools to be the “high hanging fruit.”  (editorial  note:  nuts can be fruits)

CARPOOLS: THE HIGH HANGING FRUIT

Why?    First, the ‘real’ number of carpools is inflated and considerably less than the census numbers state. Today’s carpool count includes drivers who ride with a family member, or drop their children off at school. The drivers can legitimately say that they have a passenger, get counted in the surveys, and gain access to faster carpool lanes. But, they are not picking up a casual acquaintance or stranger.  

Carpooling can be inconvenient for a driver who might have to detour during peak-traffic to pick up or drop off passengers. It has been awkward for the driver and passenger to set a price and exchange fees.

HOW WAZE COULD HELP:

In principle, a Waze app could shift the balance.


The missing component for carpooling is the ability to establish trust between strangers.  Hitchhiking fails because strangers meet up with no prior information. An app can close the gap by providing a strongly enforced rating mechanism, like the one pushed to riders and driver after each trip on Uber or Lyft.

Prior to smartphones, there was no systematic, real-time way for riders and drivers to establish trust.  Taxi drivers were considered trustworthy because they were screened through livery boards and medallions. Limo drivers and mini-cabs in the U.K. were subject to similar checks. It is important to note that taxis, limos, and mini-cab drivers all have commercial insurance. Uber and Lyft drivers do too once they secure a passenger trip.

To establish similar levels of trust, a robust carpool app may need to certify that the driver’s DMV driving record and insurance information check-out. Then, passengers will know that they will be riding with a responsible driver in a safe vehicle.

TIME IS OF MATTER AND MORE:

Both time and distance matter for would-be carpools. Here, Waze travel information could play a crucial role. Although detouring to pick up a rider a few blocks away might seem simple there could be significant delays for the driver depending on the roads, time of day, and traffic. The algorithms used by Uber and Lyft account for these issues when they match a driver and passenger. Carpooling apps can use the same tools to minimize the inconvenience for the driver, and keep the passenger informed as the ride approaches.

Second, smartphones plus credit cards solve the monetary transaction that needs to take place between driver and passenger. The passenger does not have to “split the gas” or “share the tolls.” No cash needs to be exchanged. Having a pre-established billing system reduces the uncertainty between strangers and builds trust (#1).

Something that is exogenous,  future increase in gas prices, may serve as an incentive to carpool.  However, transportation researchers have found,  that the travel time saved by using HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes is also an incentive, and as more users carpool, these designated lanes became less productive.

PLUSES OR MINUSES?

That said, will the Waze app become as popular as Uber or Lyft, or will there be drawbacks?

  • Unless drivers arrange the carpool before they get in their vehicle, there will be even more reliance by  casual drivers using smartphones in traffic. Mobile phones are an increasing source of driver distraction, and there is mixed evidence, pro and con, of whether hands-free devices are safer.  Potentially, vehicle accidents could increase, but the app can help identify the safest drivers. 
  •  In a personal vehicle, the norms are fuzzy:  Some drivers may have difficulty speaking up about the house-rules and some passengers will flaunt them anyway. A carpool rating system may restore the balance, but because the rating system will be slower (a given driver makes only two or three trips a day) the driver might exit the entire system before there is an adequate feedback loop.  
  • Finally, this may be the most important reason why the carpool app will need time to grow:  “Drivers are turned inward”. The driver is transporting strangers in their personal car. For many, this vehicle is their largest purchase and most prized possession. Millions of dollars have been spent on advertising to remind car owners that “vehicles=freedom + identity + well-being.” 

So, until further notice, the decision to carpool could be overruled by the opportunity to make unannounced stops, do a drive-through for food, and have a sanctuary between the home and office.  It will just depend!

Curious why you see fewer posts here at GrayHomesGreenCars? Follow the  smartphone- centric blog at dearsmartphone.com and join in the discussion!