Andrew Thompson Interviewed by Martin Morzynski
Mobility data has already changed how city planners reimagine our public spaces. Now, private companies are leveraging that same data and applying it across a spectrum of commercial uses — from installing EV chargers at retail stores to identifying the next real estate build at a transportation crossroads.
We asked Andrew Thompson, Solution Engineer for the Commercial Sector at StreetLight, to talk to us about how cities and commercial enterprises are embracing traffic and mobility data and what’s still standing in the way of environment-focused initiatives like EV. Here’s what he had to say.
You’ve worked across the spectrum of data and services for the past decade. Why are traffic and mobility data such game-changers?
Human mobility is a major factor in economic and infrastructure planning. Until the proliferation of big data, it was very difficult to measure the movement of people at a macro level. Today mobility big data has become an indispensable ingredient across a number of commercial segments such as:
- Understanding the demand for new mobility modes, such as Autonomous vehicles (AV) or Urban Air Mobility (UAM)
- Monitoring demand within the automotive supply chain
- Analyzing the demand for infrastructure
- Enabling retail brands, commercial real estate brokerages, and EV charge-point operators to select optimal sites and then measure visitation rates
- Assessing risk for insurance underwriters
In fact, new mobility wouldn’t be possible without big data.
What was the aha moment at Streetlight when it became clear how valuable transport metrics could be for new mobility businesses beyond the government sector?
As a variety of new mobility trends emerged over the past several years, we learned that most of what StreetLight already offers to the public transportation agencies is also applicable in the private sector — and at a much larger scale. The big differentiator is that public agencies are concerned with the transportation metrics within their jurisdictions. Private sector companies are concerned with the same metrics nationwide.
There’s an all-hands-on-deck effort to make sure that as we expand transportation networks, we’re creating solutions that decrease emissions. How do you see Streetlight helping mobility businesses build a sustainable transportation network?
Improvement to any system is only possible if we can accurately measure baseline conditions and periodic changes. StreetLight provides the unique ability to accurately measure and monitor multimodal traffic at a very granular level. Further, it provides actionable insights about how to bring efficiencies to the system. You can’t create an efficient, sustainable mobility infrastructure if you don’t understand how people move now and anticipate how they will adapt to expanded mobility options.
We’ve seen a massive expansion in the modes and approaches to transport available in the past 5 years, from ride-sharing to micomobility to mainstream electrification to software enablement. What has surprised you most in this transition?
Many new technologies have been around for a long time but did not enjoy widespread adoption because they lacked a compelling catalyst. Of all the emerging mobility trends, EVs have made the sharpest upward trend in recent years, helped not only by the shift away from combustion engines but also the emergence of UAM and AVs.
EV is one of those technologies that – after being dormant at the sidelines for decades – has suddenly leaped ahead. They’ve benefited from government regulatory policies, reduction in cost, and a cultural shift toward sustainable living. It really has created a “perfect storm” that has resulted in a sharp uplift in demand for EV infrastructure.
“The big differentiator is that public agencies are concerned with the transportation metrics within their jurisdictions. Private sector companies are concerned with the same metrics nationwide.”
Where do you think the biggest bottlenecks still are, and how can they be overcome?
In terms of new mobility, the obvious bottlenecks lie with government regulations that are impeding the adoption of AVs. On the other hand, battery technology, although improving, remains a limiting factor for EVs. That said, I think EVs provide an example of what a big cultural transition can look like.
Gradually, then suddenly, as they say.
Speaking of those limiting factors, putting EV chargers where people need them is one challenge the industry faces right now. Who are the players who need better data to execute the electrification of America?
Other than the government agencies, we see four major players at different levels in the commercial sector that can benefit from rich mobility data:
- Utilities: EV infrastructure planning
- Chargepoint Operators: Charging sites selection
- Charging hosts: The retailers, hotels, gas stations, etc who need to assess site performance
- EV Fleet operators: The big trucking and supply chain cos that must select sites to make their operations as efficient as possible
Until we move to a fully autonomous future, mobility companies still rely on their employees to move parcels around on the road, transport bikes to optimal locations, install EV chargers, etc. What are some overlooked safety metrics they need to pay attention to as they prioritize worker safety?
This is an area where I think not enough attention has been paid — how crucial data can be to improving safety.
The confluence of high fidelity multimodal data and predictive analytics plays a pivotal role in worker safety. Advanced modeling techniques should be leveraged to help identify potential high-risk corridors and intersections where non-motorized traffic coexists with vehicles.
What is one “traditional” industry use case for transportation data that blows your mind?
Site selection is an age-old use case that spans multiple traditional industry verticals from retail to real estate, financial services, and Digital Out-of-Home (OOH) advertising. Now, multimodal mobility data adds a whole new dimension to that use case, as well as contextual richness that was not possible before. Now we can see so much more, beyond just who’s in the car. We can get the full picture of mobility.
For example, it is no longer sufficient to estimate only the number of visits to a location. We can now parse that information in vehicular and non-vehicular trips including the Metrics on where people are heading and how long they stay at their destination. Furthermore, we can measure the volume of trips at the store front or in a parking lot – or even within the viewshed of a billboard – rather than the general vicinity. This level of granularity is particularly useful in a dense urban environment and provides a much more sophisticated site analysis than anything we could accomplish in the past.
What are you most excited about when you think about the future of transportation?
Human imagination and ingenuity are truly remarkable. UAMs are the manifestation of flying cars of Jetsons. We’re electrifying transportation and working towards AV now, but who knows, teleportation of StarTrek may be forthcoming before too long.