Life's encounters are full of hints about tomorrow.
What kind of future are Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) employee Kazuaki Nakagawa and his associates hoping to realize, now that they have identified the potential of mobility societies through an on-demand bus service?
The Internet of Things, or IoT, connects our devices to the worldwide web, and it is becoming part of our everyday lives. One IoT initiative is the KnowRoute on-demand bus service in Fukuoka, Japan, a project that I have been involved in from the conception stage. By entering their desired pickup and dropoff points into a smartphone app, users can summon a bus to the stop, where they can be picked up and driven to the stop near to their destinations by efficient way. KnowRoute is a new public transportation service that takes advantage of artificial intelligence (AI) to optimize mobility. It is offered by a company called Next Mobility Co., Ltd. (Next Mobility), which is a joint venture between MC and Nishi-Nippon Railroad Co., Ltd. (NNR).
I have been involved in the auto sector since I first joined MC, and over time I came to realize that bus operators and Japan's other public transportation operators (PTOs) are facing a number of serious challenges, including a shortage of drivers. This is a problem that affects a large part of Japanese society, and I became determined to help find a solution, but it was only when I took part in Team M-Lab that I felt truly inspired to take action. Based in Silicon Valley, M-Lab's members include professionals from MC and more than ten other Japanese enterprises. It serves as a platform for them to pool their expertise and stimulate business creation that cuts across different industries. Silicon Valley leads the way in mobility-society evolution, and trials of self-driving vehicles are already underway there. My exposure to the ideas and opinions coming at that time are what led to the project.
A fellow M-Lab member introduced me to the Canadian start-up company Spare Labs Inc., whose mission is to provide efficient and convenient transportation around the world by superior technology. Spare Labs created the booking and dispatching system that powers the KnowRoute service. MC's business partner on the project, NNR, has been an important PTO in Japan for more than 110 years, playing a key role in city and community development. Everyone involved in the project shares the same ambition to revolutionize transportation, and it is a team that has filled me with confidence since day one. The more progress we made in the project, the more convinced I was that with partners like these, we were certain to be successful in creating a new future in mobility services. What drives me the most is meeting and working with people with whom I share the same vision.
Now we are considering expanding this business nationwide, and every day my colleagues and I are experimenting with new ideas aimed at providing passengers with more convenient and sustainable mobility solutions. Public transportation is important not only for conveying us from place to place, but also for building communities that are convenient and accessible for all people, including children and the elderly. I think that there is a new world in mobility business, one that has so much more to offer our societies.