By Leonid Antsfeld
Our cities are growing. As they expand, so do the inherent problems: more people, more construction and more congestion. Getting from point A to point B can be challenging, and as populations grow and demographics change, it will get even more difficult. We shouldn’t have to wait. There should not be obstacles to our free movement through urban environments.
Almost 80 percent of cars in the United States have no passengers, only drivers, and yet many of them typically head in the same direction at the same time to and from city centers.
What if an app could unite these users and minimize the waste? It would not just economize, but provide feedback to the user: Different routes could be compared visually, according to costs and benefits, the size of one’s carbon footprint, and even potential calories burnt along the way. And suppose that app could analyze city-wide data concerning vehicle use, route hotspots and commuting needs, providing never-before seen insights for city planners?
Here’s how the app came to life, from conception to inception.
The basic idea was conceptualized at the Xerox Research Centre Europe in 2011, and was called TAU – Transportation as Utility. However the idea was ahead of its time and the market wasn’t ready for it.
It was not until 2014, when research and business teams within Xerox rolled up their sleeves and started brainstorming the vision for a more concrete offering. A new comer, I was thrown into a deep water from day one, and worked closely with researchers from Bangalore, India; Grenoble, France, Palo Alto, Calif., and Webster, N.Y.
Picture Your Commute
A picture is worth a thousand words: This is why we took a different approach and started building our solution from the user perspective. We worked with a world-class designer to create screenshot mock-ups, a user interface, and flow charts that demonstrated how a user would interact with the system.
Converting these visuals into a proof of concept and managing by committee could have proven disastrous. So a smaller team was selected to move the project to the next stage. We recruited Nick Cellini, an experienced iPhone developer and artist in his field. He created an app from our visual elements. The app was demonstrated to the wider project team, and the excitement was unanimous. But we did not know if the final users would be as excited, so ethnographers from PARC conducted initial user studies on the app and concept acceptance. The results were promising and helped shape the idea further.
It became clear we were on something. Victor Ciriza, a lab manager from our European research center, created an architecture of the future solution that became our roadmap.
Building the Brain
The seed for the app’s brain was forged when the app was pitched in Los Angeles. That’s when we met with founders of SkedGo, a Sydney-based start-up. We shared the same vision and could clearly see the benefits of collaboration. Xerox had the pre-existing app, resources, and analytics expertise, and SkedGo had hands on experience in the business of mobility and trip-planning.
In four months, the app and the platform were taken to the first round of real-world testing. ErliBird, a company specializing in recruiting testers, helped us collect invaluable user feedback. Two more rounds of testing and analysis, and the app’s user experience and interface were ready for launch.
‘I Needed This Yesterday’
Xerox launched its Mobility Marketplace in Denver as “Go Denver” and in Los Angeles as “Go LA.” Many other cities are already showing great interest.*
Xerox built a flexible and adjustable platform, and it will take only weeks to deploy and launch in a new city, incorporating local landmarks and each city’s individual needs. (At a recent mobility conference, a transit authority official from a large city exclaimed, “I needed this yesterday!”)
Taking a nebulous idea and grounding it in simple, user-friendly technology is never easy. And when that idea is “how to move a city” — a city with millions of people — the undertaking becomes intimidating. Or, as I like to say: The more difficult the problem, the higher the barrier for competitors.
Denver and Xerox launch local trip-planning app (Denver Business Journal)
The City’s New Transit App Can Streamline Your Commute (5280 Magazine)
Denver unveils app to help you get around (9 News)
Los Angeles Has Invented the Multimodal Navigation App of My Dreams (Gizmodo)
This App Hopes to Help You Outsmart L.A. Traffic Jams (CityLab)
The Go LA app will show you all the ways to reach your destination (Roadshow)
GO LA: Commute Smarter in Los Angeles (Xerox.com)
About the author: Leonid Antsfeld holds a Master Degree in Operational Research and Optimization from Technion, Israel Institute of Technology and earned a Ph.D. in Optimization of Road and Public Transport Networks from faculty of Computer Science and Engineering in the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and National Research Institute of Australia (NICTA).
Today Leonid is part of the Xerox Innovation Group and is in charge of Business Development for Transportation in Xerox Research Centre Europe. With the launch of the Xerox Mobility Marketplace, he became a product manager of the new solution that Xerox is offering to the cities.
*This article was updated to include information, videos and links related to the Go Denver app.