Michael Dick, CEO, C2A Security
Graham Gullans, VP Business & Corporate Development, Superpedestrian
Adi Pinhas, CEO, Brodmann17
Yakir Machluf, OurCrowd Mobility Lead
Watch the full episode here.
As the coronavirus pandemic challenges the world of transportation and mobility, the crisis is also offering opportunities for new technological solutions, from electric scooters to self-driving cars, according to some of the leading entrepreneurs in the sector.
“The mobility sector is among the hardest hit due to Covid-19, seeing one of the greatest declines in history,” said Yakir Machluf, mobility lead for OurCrowd, whose portfolio includes dozens of mobility startups. At the beginning of the pandemic, many car manufacturers shuttered operations as much of the world went into lockdown. Although manufacturing has now resumed, it is slower, and other aspects of mobility, including public transportation and ride-hailing apps continue to see a downturn in users.
At the same time, more people have turned to alternative modes of transportation, including bicycles and scooters.
“The entire way in which people and goods move around has changed,” Machluf said in the second episode of the Pandemic Venture Investment Series, co-sponsored by OurCrowd and Anthony Scaramucci’s SALT. “And some would say for the better.”
The increased reliance on these so-called micromobility systems, like electric bikes, opens up opportunities for investors and entrepreneurs in the sector, said Graham Gullans, vice president of business and corporate development at Boston-based Superpedestrian Fleet Solutions, which makes electric scooters with onboard and cloud-based software to automatically and constantly perform maintenance and safety checks.
Superpedstrian’s scooters, which operate under the brand name LINK, have been deployed in multiple US cities and Rome, and are now in trials in the UK.
Not only did the pandemic push more people to try these methods of transportation, it also resulted in cities quickly making changes to better accommodate them, including closing roads to cars and adding bike lanes and bike racks, Gullans said.
“With cities and public policy, things are typically difficult to change, they take time,” he said. “But now, cities are really promoting more options for mobility, specifically micromobility, because micromobility is preferable when you are in the open-air environment, and you don’t face the public health challenges of public transport with people being close to each other.”
People use the new mobility options for tourism, recreation and also for daily tasks and errands, and the average ride distance has doubled, he said. Gullans is hopeful that the pandemic will also push the sector to become more cost-efficient and develop in additional locations, including in smaller cities and towns.
Shared electric bike and scooter systems have largely been limited to big cities, where there is constant high user demand, he explained. Operating costs are high, including for large numbers of employees to constantly monitor and maintain the shared vehicles. Superpedestrian’s technology aims to change this by eliminating much of the need for people to monitor and check on the vehicles, cutting costs and increasing safety in fleets, and also making the systems economically feasible in places with lower use volume.
“When you can lower your costs, your market and the promise becomes so much bigger for micromobility,” he said.
Meanwhile, the pandemic slowdown has forced companies in the car sector to rethink their business plans and how they will recover and compete in the future, explained Adi Pinhas, co-founder and CEO of Tel Aviv-based Brodmann17, which makes and develops software for automatic driving functions, especially for the mass market.” As in many other cases, Covid accelerated decisions that should have been made earlier,” he said. “People are regrouping, making more solid plans.”
It has especially helped make it clear to car-manufacturers that fully self-driving vehicles, especially for the mass market, are still probably a decade away, Pinhas said. In the meantime, consumers and new safety regulations are increasing demand for more automated elements in vehicles, like automatic emergency-braking systems and self-parking. Manufacturers are increasing investment in such features, even in lower-end cars.
“Now that there are not going to be autonomous vehicles anytime soon, they realize we need to take care of the driver to create systems that are going to make the car more efficient, more comfortable, and safer,” Pinhas said, explaining that his company has seen steady business despite the pandemic. “Now they have a gap to close, so they are working with us.”
As car companies consider the path to economic recovery, they are considering more seriously the need for cyber security, especially as regulations increasingly require it, said Michael Dick, founder and CEO of Jerusalem-based C2A Security, which provides an automotive cyber-security management platform and other solutions.
“There is no way back,” Dick said.
In addition to forcing the mobility industry to look forward, the pandemic has also changed the way these startups work, often with surprising success. As working remotely has become the norm, Superpedestrian has expanded its talent pool by hiring outside its base in Boston. And executives at Brodmann17 and C2A said the broader industry acceptance of remote demos and sales, rather than in-person meetings, has also allowed them to be more efficient.
“You never want to let a crisis go wasted,” Gullans said. “There’s always short-term challenges, but also open opportunities.”