Podcast

04 - A quiet, data-powered future of mobility. ft. Florian Grüning

December 3, 2019

Florian is the founder and CEO of Powerplace.io based in Berlin, Germany. Powerplace is building the next generation Mobility Operations Platform with a goal of empowering mobility providers to improve their services based on AI-driven analytics that will be able to react quickly and with certainty in the ever-changing supply and demand situation of large urban areas.

Pinar Guvenc  00:00

Hello everyone and welcome to the fourth episode of What's Wrong With: The Podcast. My name is Pinar Guvenc and I'm the managing partner of Eray Carbajo, an award winning Architecture and Design Studio based in New York and Istanbul with a mission of creating concepts that address urban, social, and environmental problems. Today we have the privilege of talking to Florian Gruning. Florian is the founder and CEO of Powerplace based in Berlin, Germany. Powerplace is building the next generation mobility operations platform with a goal of empowering mobility providers to improve their services based on AI driven analytics that will enable to react quickly and with certainty in the ever-changing supply and demand situation of large urban areas. Hello, Florian. Welcome. It's a pleasure to have you today. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself?

Florian Gruning  00:53

Yeah, sure. My name is Florian. I'm from Germany, living in Berlin. I would describe myself as a digital enthusiast, basically. So I've worked within the field of data science, within the field of consulting. And after that, I started my own company called Powerplace.io. And we help corporate and especially mobility services to be much more efficient and faster with their data science processes. That means being able to analyze, for example, demand and supply situations within cities and how a fleet manager could react on it effectively. And that can be, for example, a fleet that is responsive to the real demand. And we see, or I believe, that this kind of field will get even bigger and more important once autonomous driving will hit us.

Pinar Guvenc  01:48

Yeah. And what are some of the, I guess, inefficiencies or problems you see in current efforts? We are using many, you know, rideshare apps, globally. So what do you think can be done better? And how does data enable that to happen?

Florian Gruning  02:06

Yeah, I mean, for that, I think we need to understand a little bit more also the underlying motivations of the mobility industry, you know, because it is such a super big issue. And of course, it ends with inefficient ride sharing apps and so on. But there are so many other inefficiencies within the processes and mindsets in the market right now. So what I mean, the overarching challenge of mobility is basically how to improve our social and environmental life, you know, because we produce a lot of emissions with our cars that we own. And that has not only the consequences of maybe, maybe, yeah, people that die by cancer or something in cities. It leads also to destroying our planet and boosting the overarching climate change, because, you know, mobility, especially within cities makes up like 20% of the overall emissions right now. And there's also a social aspect that makes it important to make mobility more efficient. And that is more as social trigger or yeah, and social consequences. So, our cities are growing means more and more people own a car in a city. But we have the problem that we cannot just increase the infrastructure within the city. So that fear leads to a lot of congestion, higher commuting time, frustrated people, noisy cities, and you know, it has a strong mental health impact also on the negative impact on on ourselves. And this is basically that is from my perspective the base problem, are challenges that mobility industry is right now facing and that we need somehow to change.

Pinar Guvenc  04:07

Right? And I guess the user mindset, right? When we look back, I don't know, maybe not even 10 years ago, if somebody told us we were gonna share a ride with a stranger to work, it was sort of like, why would we do that? You know, it was a concept that was so far away. Whereas now, there's more and more of a population that sees that's totally normal. And I even know parents who send their child to school with an Uber driver. So the mindset is definitely shifting. But what do you think about like what else has to change so that our idea around or approach to car ownership sort of changes so we can actually start addressing some of the problems and mobility?

Florian Gruning  04:50

Well, I mean, I see it also that the mindset is switching especially on the consumer side. But still, there are way too many private cars out there and too much private ownership exists still, you know. So that shows me always that the solutions that we have out there right now, like ride sharing, car sharing, they don't have really the effect to make a change. So I still see or you can still say that a C level manager drives a bigger and more expensive car than his employee, you know, and we move our cars just for 4% of day. But still, it is so important for a lot of people to own their very own car. And, sure, I mean, I see also the Uber use case. But you know, the really tangible impact is not yet there. For example, there was a study showing that the traffic by Uber is increasing the congestion. And you know, this can just happen because people use Uber, but they also still own their own car. It is a tricky thing, you know. And the biggest issue or big issue is, also that the two companies are afraid of making a shift. Because there's a lot of money into that game, right? So if a company you know, I mean, the biggest marketing scam in the world is probably the automotive or private car ownership, because it makes no sense that you're sitting alone in a four seater car, it makes no sense that you just travel to work and back from work and for that you own a car. But it is how a car manufacturer makes money. He tells you that car is so much better, faster, stronger, you need to get a new car when you have more money available, you know, or they tell families you need that kind of car, you know, to be satisfied in your life and all this kind of stuff. So the shift needs to happen on their side. And right now all the initiatives that I see out there - car sharing opportunities and ride sharing apps. You know, it's done more or less in a half way. It's because because companies are scared to lose their customers. They're scared of losing, for example, the variation of the cars, they're scared of traction and losing revenue. And because of that, we don't have so strong initiatives, or how to say, serious taken initiatives from the bigger car manufacturers to make a change. So I see the biggest issues that the big players in the game right now, who has the leverage, who have the potential to educate the customer on different ways of mobility is still scared that he's going to kill his own customers that he's losing them and losing the revenue consequently, which is also again, a little bit weird thinking because we all know that there will be a major shift within in terms of mobility, so we know it maybe in 10 years, maybe in 20 or 30 years, but definitely in 2050, the whole system will be completely disrupted. 

Pinar Guvenc  08:11

I mean, I guess, you know, everyone's afraid to be the first mover, right? Like no one wants to just take the risk by themselves. They're for waiting everybody else to, I guess, to be on board, even if the technology is ready for them. And I guess also the policy is generally lags in many countries, even if the technology is ready to, you know, move ahead. Will the policy allow for it? I mean, there are even still countries that actually regulate rideshare apps, right, or the number of cars that are used for such apps.

Florian Gruning  08:50

Yeah, definitely. Every stakeholder right now is scared. It is a government. It is a consumer. He's scared about climate change the companies are scared of losing customers. And the government is scared about exploding cities and managing both of those sides because, I mean, you're talking with me and I'm, I'm from Germany. We believe as Germans, and it's also true that all our economy is actually connected to the automotive and the cars. So it makes it even more important. And even more scary for every participant in that kind of game, you know, because if the automotive industry is declining in Germany, every other industry in Germany is declining because they are somehow connected to it. So we are all scared, the solutions are like half ready, not fully thought through and so on. And from my perspective, we just need a positive technological rush as we had in for example, in I don't know, the 50s or 60s, when we traveled to the space, you know, because that was a major change, where we changed our whole perspective on our own world, first of all, but did also such a major technological leap, that changed so much more you know about how we see the world, and how we act about our thinking of the consumer, and so on. And we would need something like that right now. And not just because we want to have autonomous driving cars and nice apps and more efficient cities. It is because we want to stop climate change, and keep that world alive. You know?

Pinar Guvenc  10:46

Yeah, and I think, I guess moving on to the technology side before, I wanted to touch base on upon the human psychology aspect, which you touched upon. Like you mentioned, people use their cars only 4% of the time in the day, right? Yes. Which is insane. And we talked about people, even if they opt for rideshare apps, they actually still own a car. So people still want to have cars, just in case. It almost has like, almost like an insurance industry aspect where like, the fear of not being able to commute however you want, leads you to be a car owner as well. So there's this one, like wanting to be your projected itself or aspiration to be someone and that side of you wants to be a car owner, as well as your side who's sort of like scared of not being able to transport however they want also wants to be a car owner. So we sort of need to like address both ends, I guess or educate both ends of people.

Florian Gruning  11:56

I mean, especially as an additional point that you mentioned, that people like to rely on their car because they think, "hey, when I'm sitting in my car, I have control about when I arrive, how I move within a city", and so on, you know. And that was also one insight that we had when we talked with a lot of different customers and also our end customers, consumers on the street. So we asked younger people and you know, younger people living more in a shared economy and so on, they own less cars, but especially when you talk about, we have people in there starting with their 40s or something, you know, to higher ages. They all say hey, I want to rely on it, I have under control when I arrived and so on. So what you have just described is a super important additional psychographical effect of a car owner. And that means also for any solutions that we are going to build it needs to have a massive impact, it needs to have and own the trust of the customer, otherwise this person will never give up their own car. And this relates and that all those other apps that we have right now they're as they are not super profitable because maybe they are not yet in the usage rate their where they could be. And we have more cities on the street and so on. So it is super important I guess, to build services that have much higher added value as we are seeing it right now with yeah, for example, car sharing services or solutions.

Pinar Guvenc  13:54

And I guess one side you know, address would Powerplace to is the deployment side of it, right? Like, I think people, even though it makes our life easier, no one wants to simply rely on the apps because they don't fully trust it. So how do we make them more efficient or, or collectively work better together or even collaborate?

Florian Gruning  14:22

Yeah. Well, with Powerplace, we try to support basically, all those stronger technology advancements that are right now happening, like shared mobility, like autonomous driving. And kind of also, we enable better, better e-mobility with the solutions that we build, because our idea is to collect city data and fleet data and combine that data in a unique way so that we are able to do a stable and good analysis To predict, for example, certain use cases such as demand prediction for your fleet, or we can help you to predict and identify the best infrastructure for emobility cars with the charging stations, we should say be positioned. So, you know, with that kind of data, you can also enhance right now, the gut feeling of a driver. So for example, we have that app called Taxi Karma. And that is a app that focus on the taxi driver. So not just you know, the private ownership is highly inefficient. Also, taxi drivers are highly inefficient. So they drive like 80% of the day alone through the city and 20 to 30% of the days they transport actually a person from A to B. So we sourced all the city data that we could find, information on popularity on locations. And we got a third party provider on board who supports us with data of flow of people within a city so we can anticipate where at which moment are a lot of people, what are kind of their profiles and are they in need right now for taxi drive. And if you have, for example, if you have sample data of a bigger taxi fleet, for example, you can build scenarios and see when, at which place, and what leads to ordering a cab. That can be for example, the weather because it was suddenly raining. So you know, let's say it is raining by night. Then you detect a pattern that you have an increase of 30% of taxi rides from nightclubs, outgoing. You know, so you can build those scenarios. We did that, put it in an app and the taxi drivers use it to understand much better the demand situation for their services within the city. And you can do that not only for taxi drivers, you can do it for the question: Where should we locate our e-scooters? Where should we locate our car sharing cars? You can help them to understand where should be charging systems, what are maybe the most and best points to aggregate people for virtual bus station you know, so maybe physical bus stations does not make any sense. Maybe we should make some more fluid, you know, antibody responses on the current situation in the city. So those are the use cases that we are right now tackling. But as I said in the future, you need to tell for example, a autonomous car were to drive through the city because it's always all about ensuring the shortest estimate time of arrival, you know. It's for the car, as the car should be as fast as possible as a customer, but it's also about the customer who should be fast as possible at his end destination and in the mobility industry, yeah, we can call it also inter modality. So, from where should I - so when I travel from A to B, what is the most efficient mix of mobility services to be fastest at that spot? You know, so it can be maybe take an e-bike to the next train station. Jump off one train station before or one metro station before because you will be faster and cheaper and easier at your place when you take from that station, I don't know maybe a car or car sharing or another e-scooter whatever, or you walk you know. So, and the fundament of everything is a proper data understanding. So you need a lot of data, you need the right data. And when you have the right data, you need to clean that data and build a model that predicts certain scenarios. And then the last point as a deployment, the action needs to be sent out to the users as fast and as reliable as possible. So the taxi driver, for example, and he needs to rely on the predictions that we give him as much as a customer or end user needs to rely on the recommendations that you give him in a travel app. You know.

Pinar Guvenc  19:45

That is so fascinating is so true when you're talking about like, without building the foundation with data, and the proper data analysis, I guess I'm talking almost the rest of this technology that was associated to the transportation or mobility industry is, I don't wanna say irrelevant, but it almost is too at the same time. Like, let's say we're having this car brand trying to adapt and in addition to the car fleets, they need to identify, you know, other streams of income, I guess. So for them to like, modify their technology and create these other mobility devices. First, we need to have an understanding of all these patterns and what are the real needs really, which is probably also why they're scared to move forward in many ways because we don't have an organized set up yet.

Florian Gruning  20:38

Definitely. Yeah, data is definitely is a fundament of, I mean, efficient mobility in cities. And it will be also so important for all those other big innovations that are coming like autonomous driving, e-mobility, as a sharing economy where we decide to give up the certain lifestyles that we have, private car ownership, you know, to give it up in a shared mobility way.

Pinar Guvenc  21:11

And when we were looking into some of other problems and urban life in general, time is a big issue, right? Every no one has enough time, these days, and we're only getting more and more, you know, I guess short on the time that we have because we're occupied with so many other things or we're bombarded with so much information. So one idea we had was, well, why not the car industry collaborate with consumer industry in other sectors such as retail, or other B2C retail and potentially also collaborating with cities and municipalities and have these - once we have the autonomous cars - have these almost transporting rooms, you know, that house hair salon as you're going to your office, or even maybe like a speed date, because people cannot even find time for that anymore. So, you know, and the idea was that the car industries would supply a technology of a base that will allow for those rooms to be housed and move around. And as I'm listening to now, I'm realizing it won't be feasible if you don't have this data, that when is needed what, or even on consumer behavior, and consumption and what time of the day people want to go to, you know, the bank, or what time of the day they actually are, eating. All of these other like data on simple day-to-day life could potentially feed and allow for such spaces. I don't know what you think about this concept. But this was something that we were just sort of, you know, conceptualizing. 

Florian Gruning  23:08

I believe and that kind of concepts that you have just explained. The question here is always when it will be happening, you know, is in 2050 or 2220, or something, you know what I mean? The timeframe for those innovations is always tricky, but what I can say, we have worked in one of our very first projects for a innovation project basically. And there the idea was also of autonomous driving vending machines. Those vending machines, maybe you heard about them are called robomarts. So, you can position different kinds of food or products into it, and they will move autonomously, so that in theory, to the places where the demand for certain mix of inventory is highest, you know, and we approached that by analyzing social media content to understand what kind of products are consumed at a certain spot in the city. And which time should you be there to provide them those products at which corner over such a robomart. It was a super futuristic and super fun project. The only problem with those innovation projects is then you do them once. And now we need to wait 20 or 30 years since the adoption and the technology and all this kind of stuff is developed enough, you know. But I see, I see also a lot of other, yeah, let's say changes in the futures you know. Yeah. I mean, you have just mentioned that car manufacturers could be providers basically of those movable living areas or, you know, amusement areas. In my future, to be honest, there will be just three different kinds of cars. In the future, we get rid of the whole status symbol shit that we have nowadays, you know, with car ownership. It will change more to okay we have a small car, we have a medium car, and maybe we have a big kind of car, which is maybe a sort of, you know a living area that can be moved from A to B or something. Saying that, immobility will make all our cities much more silent, you know, so our cities will be suddenly more silent, we will listen more to birds. The autonomous driving change will leave not only to replacing the professional drivers, it will also reduce car accidents. You know, cars will be able to drive much much faster because they are more reliable, the systems will be more reliable and accurate than a person that is driving a car. City streets might get much much tighter and smaller because we have less cars overall at the end on the street. And by the way, what are we going to do with the parking lots? Because we won't use parking lots. You know, there exists some statistics on in 2050, we will have like 2.1 billion cars in the world. So if we live in a shared economy and share those cars for all people and persons that lives there, we can bring that number down to 500 million cars overall in the whole world. And saying that, there's a whole new opportunity of understanding infrastructure and we have immediately, space within the city for free. You know, right now the cities are crowded. It's super difficult to build something in in the inner part of a city. But we will have that space because streets will get smaller, parking lots won't be used. Our infrastructure facilities won't be used that much think about petrol stations. They won't be there anymore, right.

Pinar Guvenc  26:59

We always Consider, you know, architectural and built environment implications. And when we look at some other issues in cities is lack of food supply. Food production, being far from cities, not only has also implications on climate change just because of all the food transport that is coming into cities, but also the lack of fresh food supply and the amount of you know, transportation takes place to bring into the cities. We look at architectural projects that promote urban farming, and especially looking at how urban farming can be a building amenity to residential buildings as well. And we see one potential the less need for parking spaces could be urban farming spaces for either residents or simply, you know, city dwellers who rent out a space to grow their own tomatoes, but also more public space. And I guess these, you know, big parking facilities that are sitting in the middle of a city or some of the gas stations that you're talking about could present potential future space for such public spaces.

Florian Gruning  28:20

Yeah, definitely. I mean, that sounds like actually a great usage, you know. Get rid of the dirty gas station and put instead into it a urban farming hall. Yeah, I mean, that is a good utopia and we need those ideas. We need to plant those ideas into our heads and work forward to them, you know, because what we have just - what we just did - was like creating a vision, where you want to live in, you know. And if we, if we are able to transport that kind of mindset to a lot of consumers and customers and if you can, you know, you cannot explain it with arguments we should explain it with pictures and with services that are heading to those changes, you know. And we would be able to transform also the mindset of the end users.

Pinar Guvenc  29:11

Since you sort of mentioned argument, let's look at the other side of the argument. Smart Cities are not necessarily inclusive cities. So how can we think about a more sustainable model and an inclusive model where while we're promoting autonomous cars or ride sharing, how can we also make sure there is not a big group of population that is remain unemployed, and cannot find other jobs because they don't have the right skill sets for it.

Florian Gruning  29:44

And we cannot to be honest from my perspective. So in the future, we won't have drivers because the cars will drive autonomously and a driver of a car cannot immediately become a software engineer or learn some other job or something because yeah, he learned and loved probably in life the job as a driver. So this is a huge issue where I don't have an answer on. And I think the answer should be delivered by the other, third big stakeholder, right? We talked a lot about customer, we talked about the car manufacturer, it should be solved much better by the government. And you know, so we need to find a way to educate those people and bring them into other fitting job so that they can get happy. Or if we cannot find a job for them, then find a way that those people get still socially accepted. So you know what I mean, like an unemployed person does not have the biggest self esteem does not feel respected by other people around and has not the same money as a full working person to live a life. But if we realize there is no job for a driver and for certain drivers there won't be the possibility that a change or go into another job, then we need to find more political instruments that that kind of person is not culturally excluded. Because, you know, the issue that we are talking here is not just an issue in the mobility industry. I mean, the banking sector right now in Germany, you see it because, you know, we're coming slowly into recession. You see right now the first companies reacting on that. So for banks, that means closing a lot of banking shops, because most of the people are doing online banking nowadays, it makes no sense to have those branches - banking branches - out there. And if a car can drive autonomously, and if it is safer, if it is faster, if it is reducing emissions, then I'm very sorry, there won't be a job for a driver. But what we need to find is a solution how to cope with it in a social way, you know, so that we don't exclude them, that they are not in the end, you know, after losing their job, within the hierarchy of peoples and so on, you know.

Pinar Guvenc  32:05

It, again goes back to data, of knowing drivers, I guess skill sets or backgrounds and give sort of models for the government to even be like, okay, there's a 30% of the driver base and could actually adapt to I guess, farming. And then there's like a 20% of driver base sex more easily adapt to Xyz. So I think data, again, will help even government to sort of identify those training opportunities to have a more smoother transition for the drivers to be able to adapt to their new position and to minimize the percentage of unemployment.

Florian Gruning  32:49

I mean, definitely. Data can enable every process, makes the decision making more rational and objective. You know, on the other side, the question is: who will do a job that a machine is recommending him? You know, I mean, I see definitely the point and also the value added. But I see it less a technology task than a social task, you know, so it is much more culturally because the job of a driver, it's not the most value adding job in the world, let's face it, it's not the most value-adding job in the world. And the person that is working in the banking branch is not doing the most value added jobs that is out there. You know, they basically do the job that the machine already does when it comes to online banking, you know. So we need just to change here. I mean, that is more governmental tasks and a task of a corporate or company. We need to educate them in a different mindset like a lifelong learning, accepting change in an ever changing environment as we live nowadays. It is it is just part of our life. It is part of the life that the that the taxi drivers losing a shop, but it will be also part of our life that the urban farmer will lose his job probably in, let's say to 2150 or something, there won't be maybe an urban farmer because moving robots will do it and maybe their urban farming job existed in the whole lifespan, less than the job of a driver. It is just a change. And the technology is boosting the change so much that we need to learn to adapt to it. And this should be much more as a governmental task and that play you know, or in that game. Changing or communicating that, you know, that we have an ever-growing change, that you won't end up in the job where you started in? You know that it's just a phenomena that we need to get used to it because it will be even much faster in the future.

Pinar Guvenc  34:50

What would be an advice you would want to give to I guess it progress maker, entrepreneur, an intratrepreneur, business who is sort of trying to to push the boundaries or, you know, create some impact or change within a certain industry?

Florian Gruning  35:09

It starts a little bit, especially within the sector where we just discussed to realize that climate change is something real. And that we don't, that we really don't have too much time. You know, it feels like we have a lot of time because we don't get immediately the effects of the stuffs that we have done in the past and the things that we do right now with our consumption. So we need to realize that fact, and at the same time, we shouldn't run away because of that huge challenge. We should look very optimistic into it, you know, and saying, Hey, we can make it because we are still a lot of clever and smart humans and if they connect as they work together, they can do so, so crazy shit. I mean, we have just talked about well, I talked to a little bit about, you know, the space traveling race that were taking part in the 50s, and 60s and so on, you know, and it ended up with landing at the moon. This was fucking positive, you know, a whole nation, especially in the USA, you know, work together to get there and to get things done, and they did something that nobody else did before and nobody else ever thought about to make it in that short time. So we need to get in that kind of optimistic mindset, I would say. And for that, it's important that we are more active, realizing that we are part of the life and said we can make a change and we should take risks, you know, a radical change is needed. Other than that we block each other in our actions and don't get forward in a pace that we need right now. You know, I mean, that sounds very clever, right? But yeah the problem, the problem is, I have still problems. You know, I give now a very smart advice, but don't do it in my whole life, you know. So I mean, I've also have problems of following those advices. But I had a very, very inspiring talk a couple of weeks ago, in Lisbon. And it was also with a environmental activist, and nowadays a super, super successful founder of a deep-tech startup. So she studied like, like sociology, and was an environmental activist, was sitting in front of her laptop and realizing, hey, the emissions that this is brought by computer chips is very high, and it's very likely that the emissions will increase because the number of computers won't decrease, it will increase the number of server centers that we need from Amazon and Microsoft will increase as well. So she realized that fact and came up with a very simple conclusion. Hey, I need to develop a new kind of computor chip. But she studied sociology. So I was always wondering, how strong is her belief in that change? How strong is her motivation that she just said, Okay, I will do it. And there is some way. So she talked with a lot, I guess more than 300, researchers in that field, found two people who were capable to engineer a new kind of computer chip. They're engineering it right now as a big startup and have a lot of funding and building, or helping those big, you know, big data suppliers like Google like Microsoft, and so on. They help those big suppliers to build supercomputers. So you know what I mean? She had nothing to do with engineering before that, she had just the very strong belief that this is needed and that she is capable to do it, and she did it.

Pinar Guvenc  38:51

And you did touch upon when we were talking, just started talking like how human mindset shifts, simply you know, and how we look at things need to change. And this is a perfect example of how that, you know, change of mindset. And just belief in something simply allows you to do anything. Even if you don't have the background, you create the team to have that background and then they you follow that pursuit of solving a really, really big, current and future problem.

Florian Gruning  39:24

Definitely. Have a belief build a plan and then just do it, execute it. And yeah, in some cases, that works, but in some cases, maybe not. But it's at least worth to try it out.

Pinar Guvenc  39:36

I think this is the perfect moment to wrap it up. Great advice. Florian, this is amazing. Thank you so much for joining us today.

Florian Gruning  39:46

Yeah, definitely, definitely. I also really enjoyed it too, to have that exchange with you guys.

Pinar Guvenc  39:53

Thank you for listening to our podcast. Tune in next time when we sit down with Dan Bowden, CEO and founder of O2O2 Facewear.

40:06

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