The future of mobility on display during CoMotion, with Miami as focal point
This week, 1,500 international mobility experts, policymakers, technologists, and transport enthusiasts attended CoMotion Miami 2022: a hybrid event held online and at the Mana Wynwood Convention Center.
Didn’t have a chance to attend? The Refresh Miami team has got you covered. Let’s dive into the latest on mobility – from electric aircraft to electric scooters and everything in between – and Miami’s place in it.
Local leaders shared their visions for the future of Miami mobility
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez both acknowledged that mobility is a key issue in our region. The two mayors highlighted the critical role new technologies can, will, and should play in making transportation less of a headache.
“We have major challenges” when it comes to transportation, noted Levine Cava, whose keynote address opened up the two-day conference. “We are embracing the mobility revolution, and I’m extremely excited about our progress.”
“We have to move at the speed of innovation,” Levine Cava added, admitting that mobility progress has not been made as quickly as it should have.
In an unscripted speech, Suarez implored the innovators in attendance to continue supporting the public sector’s initiatives to bring new mobility solutions to the Magic City.
“When the public sector doesn’t act, the private sector hacks,” proclaimed Suarez.
The problem with mobility has historically been a technical one, asserted Suarez. “We were using yesterday’s technology to solve today and tomorrow’s problems: What I call putting lipstick on a pig.” The solution? “We just have to start thinking about today’s and tomorrow’s technology – not yesterday’s technology,” said Suarez.
And we’re going in the right direction: “I’ve seen more innovation in the last six months than in the last 12 years since I first got elected,” Suarez added in a later conversation with Levine Cava moderated by the Knight Foundation’s Alberto Ibarguen.
A handful of other local leaders featured at CoMotion, however, were much more concerned about the here-and-now of Miami mobility.
Eulois Cleckley, Chief Executive Officer of the Department of Transportation and Public Works for Miami-Dade County [pictured below], underscored the importance of having a connected transport system. He noted initiatives to supercharge the county’s public mobility system, including optimizing bus routes, expanding the people mover to Wynwood (surely a big win for #MiamiTech socials), and creating bus-only lanes in high-traffic areas like from South Beach to the Miami Beach Convention Center.
For Cleckley, new tech will help accelerate mobility improvements. He noted that Miami-Dade is already in the process of upgrading 26,000 public street lights to LEDs, which will also provide the opportunity to install 500 additional traffic detectors and cameras at the same time.
Patrick Goddard, President of the Brightline train system, offered his private-sector insights into the mobility space: “If you’re not focused on the customer experience, you’re going to have much more trouble getting back to post-covid patterns.”
Rising above: Miami as hotspot for Advanced Air Mobility
If you can’t alleviate traffic jams, then why not try to figure out how to fly above them?
That’s the question on the minds of a handful of major companies looking to develop Advanced Air Mobility (AAM) solutions. And South Florida will likely be ground zero for exploration of the latest and greatest AAM tech.
CoMotion was a veritable who’s-who in the aviation space, particularly highlighting some of the more established companies that are entering the AAM game like Hyundai, Embraer, and Ferrovial.
Perhaps the most novel AAM exhibition at CoMotion came from REGENT, a startup backed by a host of high profile investors including Thiel Capital, Mark Cuban, and Y Combinator. At CoMotion, the company’s co-founder and CEO, Billy Thalheimer, unveiled a prototype of their all-electric seaglider [pictured at top of post]..
The goal: make regional coastal transportation faster, safer, and more sustainable. Unlike many alternatives in the space, these sea gliders fall under maritime legislation – although the company says that they still work closely with the FAA as well. These vehicles are half the cost of aircraft and six times faster than ferries. REGENT has been testing the device in Tampa and plans to have them in commercial service by 2025.
“There is no better place to share our vision for the future of all-electric coastal transportation and unveil our seaglider prototype than here at CoMotion Miami,” said Thalheimer [pictured below] in a statement. “Not only are we surrounded by innovative global leaders of future mobility, but we are in a hotspot of coastal transportation activity with millions of travelers along Miami’s coast and adjacent archipelagos every year.”
Scooting around town
The turbulent political environment surrounding the uptake of electric scooters around Miami-Dade County did not deter some of the nation’s largest scooter providers from making an appearance at CoMotion.
Helbiz showcased new adaptive vehicles: a wheelchair attachment that can be installed on manual wheelchairs and a three-wheeled scooter that is operated while sitting down. The company plans to deploy these vehicles in Charlotte next month and will be expanding to South Florida soon after.
“CoMotion Miami showcased the incredible diversity in technological advancements that will change how our world moves and operates,” Vivian Myrtetus [pictured above], Head of Partnerships and Policy at Helbiz, told Refresh Miami. “It’s exciting to see that Miami is driving these tech and entrepreneurial advancements.”
“As Greater Miami suffers from increasing congestion and threats from climate change, Helbiz plays an integral role in connecting residents with the first and last mile solutions and reducing emissions from transportation,” Myrtetus continued, underscoring that growth is top of mind for the company going forward.
Brian Buccella, a micromobility veteran and Senior Vice President of Global Policy at Bird, highlighted some of the features that make their devices a cut above. This includes a feature that aims to reduce impaired riding, sidewalk detection, and a mode that makes the eScooters better suited to beginners.
Don’t forget about the cars!
Of course, cars – mostly of the electric variety – were a recurring topic of conversation across CoMotion.
Miami Beach-based EV charging company Blink had a major presence at CoMotion. Brendan Jones, the firm’s President, emphasized the importance of collaboration when it comes to electrifying our mobility future.
“If we don’t work together and collaborate, we’re not going to see change happen at the pace we need it to happen,” said Jones. He urged public and private sector leaders to come together to build the tens of millions of charging stations required to fuel the estimated 186 million EVs that will be on the roads by 2030.
Rebecca Gutierrez, Blink’s Vice President of Marketing, spoke on a panel about how Miami is a living laboratory for urban innovation. She praised the conference for bringing innovative ideas in mobility to the Miami ecosystem.
“Florida is already miles ahead of the rest of the country when it comes to EV adoption and electrification, and our goal at Blink is to help usher in the future of net-zero transportation both locally and around the globe,” Gutierrez told Refresh Miami. “We anticipate continued growth of our EV charging network, bolstered by the injection of funding from the federal government’s infrastructure bill and partnerships across both the public and private sectors.”
Spotlight on startups, the next generation of innovators
Six finalists presented at CoMotion’s 2022 Miami Mobility Innovation Challenge. History was made, with a deadlocked jury deciding to award the top prize to two startups: Mobi and Kinect Air.
Mobi is a Bolivian company that develops mobility hardware and software, often in conjunction with government agencies. The startup is already active in Bolivia and Paraguay, and has plans to soon expand to Uruguay, Peru, and Panama.
Portland-based Kinect Air aims to unlock the 5,000 smaller airports in the US for mainstream travelers. While private jets cost $10-20 per mile each passenger travels, Kinect Air’s network of small planes will bring the cost down to $1.50 or lower.
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