Speaker intro: Carlo van de Weijer

31 August 2016

Now that all the faculty members are back from their training and accreditation it is only right to give them a proper introduction. This week we will post an interview a day, each with one of the faculty members introducing us to their subject matter and the research area that they are so passionate about. This time we sat down with Carlo van de Weijer.

So tell us, who is Carlo van de Weijer?

My name is Carlo van de Weijer, director of Smart Mobility at the University of Eindhoven and I’ve been working in the mobility and automotive space for all of my career.

Why the mobility space?

Well, originally I wanted to become a medical doctor but when I came to the laboratory at the University of Eindhoven I saw all these vehicles and I was sold.

I was always fueled by change. And if there is one industry that’s changing right now, it’s mobility. ICT is entering the mobility arena and is a big driver for exponential change. In my eyes mobility is one of the areas where real exponential change is about to come from.


What are some things that you would like to share in your talk during the Summit?

I would like to introduce the audience to the changes going on in the mobility industry. First as an example, also due to the parallels with society as a whole.

Mobility is changing faster than ever, many things that we used to take for granted are rapidly being overturned. The idea that public transport is superior to cars for example, or the idea that cars are expensive and polluting. Both these ideas are being disrupted as we speak. Especially for policy makers it is important to be aware of these developments.

The parallels with society as a whole are quite apparent as well. Mobility, like many other sectors, fulfills a biological urge. People want to be mobile and have the need to be mobile for more than one hour a day. For some evolutionary reason our reptile brain wants us to be mobile for at least one hour a day. People who are mobile are usually happier than those who are not mobile. When you make changes you have to take care to fulfill this type of need.

If you look at it from an historical perspective, there’s a remarkable constant of people being mobile for more than hour a day. What is also constant is the rising trend in the amount of miles we can travel in this time. If I compare my grandparents, who never left The Netherlands, to my children and their travels: that’s exponential change! This will continue even further. A lot of this range extension is currently being taken care of by planes. People in western countries are almost travelling more miles in a year per plane than they do by car. The number of miles that we travel is rising exponentially, the amount of time however, is remarkably constant for ages.

 

What do you expect from the participants?

I expect the participants at the Summit to be a bit more open to change than your average Joe. This is needed, especially in the mobility arena. The only thing we are sure about is that things will explosively and exponentially change. You will have to be agile, flexible and willing to experiment. For those that don’t work in mobility there are some interesting parallels in my presentation. Cars will have to have an enormous amount of flexibility in their systems, they’ll have to “break the law” now and then. The same goes for people within organizations. Don’t tell your boss that I told you to break the law, but you’ll probably agree that you have to flexibly interpret rules and regulation as long as your sure that your company survives that. The grand goal here is to find a way in which we can implicitly institutionalize the breaking of laws and regulations in your company. That’s a real step to real exponential organizations. I would like to hear about the situations in the participant’s companies! I saw a lot of different situations in different companies and I love to talk about this.

About those urges, are we all going to travel just to fulfill our biological urge to do so? That doesn’t sound all that sustainable.

Road authorities will have to fulfill this biological urge for mobility that I was just talking about. But we have to do it in a smart way. Indeed, this long hour that we want to be mobile is under threat because it is not sustainable at this moment. A lot of people are being killed in traffic. Car accidents, but bikes especially. There is also pollution involved, and congestion of course. In total there are a lot of things that make our current mobility unsustainable.

From my point of view there is a huge change that mobility is confronting: The sustainability of our mobility is growing! The fact that we can make traffic inherently safe for example, there are car brands claiming to do that by 2020. You can see technology jumping in as well, and solving many problems that our mobility had brought us. That’s the fundamental change.  At this moment however, it is still not sustainable. Economically, we lose 3 to 5% of our GDP because of all the negative effects of our mobility. Otherwise our economy would run a lot better: without traffic jams, accidents or pollution. These things are being achieved on a relatively short timescale. And that’s what’s happening at this moment.

Until the time that we can fool ourselves by virtual reality, we will have to offer mobility at the most sustainable way possible. That used to be public transport, but this is changing quickly. Public transport is the disrupted industry when we talk about mobility. It costs an enormous amount of money. People don’t see that because they pay a large part of this through their taxes, sometimes twice as much. The traditional advantages of public transport are being washed away by all the changes that we see in mobility. Of course ICT, but also unexpected sources like biking, especially the introduction of electrical bikes. That is by far a cheaper, better and more sustainable alternative to public transport which is really exploding at this moment.

What we could have predicted is that we knew that the 6D’s of disruption apply to mobility. Especially demonetization and dematerialization, we could have predicted that.

So our national railways is going the way of the dodo?

All students in The Netherlands get free public transport for a certain amount of time. That costs so much money that it would be cheaper for the government to give each of them a private lease car. It sounds funny but it is the truth. The disruption happened so fast that people are still fixed in their dogmas.


Do you think developments in mobility have resonance beyond your industry?

Mobility is something that touches everybody. Again, this has to do with that biological urge that we have to be mobile. The parallels with other situations are really nice though. If you see a traffic system: it only works because we can flexibly interpret the law now and then. If you want to be a good driver, in The Netherlands, you will have to flexibly interpret the law now and then, perhaps once a minute. If you drive in Istanbul that will be a few times per minute. In Delhi it might be every 3 seconds that you have to flexibly interpret the law if you want to survive in traffic over there. This is a lesson that I try to translate to real life, also within organizations. If you follow all the rules you can bankrupt your company. Also, innovation doesn’t happen inside of the lines. On the other hand, you cannot allow everyone to do as they wish. Somehow you have to institutionalize a way in which employees can color outside of the lines.

That specifically, is what we are researching right now. Because if an autonomous car doesn’t take some flexibility in interpreting the law now and then, it will not be able to survive the traffic in Amsterdam. I’ll give some examples of this at the Summit. This question is crucial in the development of artificial intelligence, how to make it real intelligence, allowing it to deviate from rules now and then.

Are there any other current trends that catch your eye?

Currently you see that most research budgets in the industry focus on assisted driving and autonomous driving. Some companies go for advanced driver assistance, others focus on full autonomy. I also notice this in the research questions we get at the university, it’s topping any other technology.

You also see research in electrical driving. It goes without saying that Tesla was the catalyzing agent for a lot of this. Everybody sees a future in electrical driving now that they’ve achieved this, much faster than expected.

Third, we see that many of the left-over problems such as accidents and pollution are nearly solved. Even with gasoline cars the pollution problem is nearly solved, it will be a marginal problem at short notice. Everything that happened with Volkswagen will speed us on our way to that point.

Last we have all the services around mobility. Often called Uberfication, or mobility as a service. In other words, thanks to IT systems, the supply and demand of transport is linked much better than it was before. These systems organize everything around mobility better than in the past. It has led to Uber, and will lead to more car-sharing in urbanized regions. People will still own cars in the future, but many second cars might be switched for a shared car. This is disrupting public transport at the moment. The lousy public transport system in San Fransisco was the perfect for fertile ground for Uber. Nowadays I don’t take rental cars anymore, I “uber” myself around town. That’s a very good public transport system from my point of view. Both these services, and cars’ diminishing disadvantages are what is disrupting public transport at the moment.


Many people say that cars are a thing of the past. Don’t we see more and more millenials foregoing cars for public transport?

There’s this status that the car had, and still has, as the ultimate machine for freedom. Everybody wants to own a car, it’s part of their status and compensates for things they don’t have. It’s an interesting question whether that will continue or not? In the train you have your hands free to do work, or play with your phone. However, this will be possible in cars as well. Also, people prefer to be mobile in a mono-modal way, people don’t like to switch modalities. I do believe that we’ll see a “spotification” in our field. Where you don’t have to own a car in order to use it.