When it comes to mobility, the sharing economy is about more than just taking turns renting a car. At the Wired Mobility conference in Berlin, industry players talked about sharing ideas, assets and even customers.
What can Hyperloop, a company that promises to one day move commuters at the speed of sound, learn from the Danish manufacturer of little toy bricks?
For one, that harnessing the creative power of many outsiders can be more effective than relying on the ingenuity of a few insiders.
That's a lesson LEGO learned during its near-bankruptcy in the early 2000s, when its most loyal fans helped it design new toys to move it back into the black. It was also reflected by Dirk Ahlborn, Hyperloop's CEO, during the Wired Mobility technology conference in Berlin.
“Ideas come up. Some are crazy, some are brilliant,” he said, speaking to the merits of crowdsourcing. “It's all about asking questions.”
Hyperloop, whose conference stand is depicted here, consists of pressurized capsules that are propelled through frictionless air tubes.
Hyperloop is accepting outside help to bring to fruition its own state-of-the-art ground transportation system, and it wasn't the only company to tout the idea. Local Motors was also there.
The American manufacturer of open-source vehicles based its entire business model on the input it gets from what it calls its “global co-creation community,” a network of auto aficionados and professional tinkerers.
When Local Motors has a new vehicle to design, it puts the challenge to its community. That's how the Rally Fighter came to be. The Phoenix, Arizona-based company recognized a market niche in sports cars capable of driving in the desert, and now customers can visit one of the company's “microfactories” and assemble their own four-wheeled beast for $99,900 (94,200 euros).
Another major crowdsourcing proponent on display at the Berlin conference was Waze, Report: Google outbids Facebook in race for Wazea popular traffic and navigation app# that relies on the data provided by its users to keep its maps up-to-date.
In fact, the community behind Waze is so active that the company's maps are effectively rewritten every 48 hours, according to Jens Baron, a project manager based in Tel Aviv.
The benefits of having traffic alerts and road closures that are being updated around the clock were made clear when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the East Coast in 2012. With stranded residents eager to escape the worst-hit areas, Waze asked its users to provide information on which gas stations were still open - at the behest of the White House.
B2B + B2C = B2B2C
But some companies went even further on Thursday, suggesting that players in the transportation industry could do more than just solicit people outside their businesses to share their knowledge and opinions.
Urban consumers, they noted, have long been sharing companies' assets by renting cars for short periods of time such as with DriveNow or Car2Go. But what about companies sharing their assets with other companies?
Damien Declercq from Local Motors made the observation that public transportation networks were woefully inefficient during non-peak hours, when many buses or trains simply wait around unused.
Imagine if, for example, Berlin's public transportation provider BVG had a fleet of smaller vehicles that it could rent out to, say, the Deutsche Post for package deliveries.
There would even be room for the convergence of B2C and B2B solutions, into the kind of B2B2C services that Uber offers some of its customers in New York, which encourage drivers to also deliver food or parcels.