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Let’s have a look at highlights of the Slush technology event held in Helsinki late November that was attended by over 2,000 start-ups and plenty of investors and journalists. We joined the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd that swarmed in the darkness of the exhibition and convention center. LEDs and lasers illuminated the path while the smartphone app guided our way to the next booth or podium.
Here are three things that we found most interesting.
Sampo Heitanen, CEO of Maas Global Limited, introduced us to Whim that he hopes will be the next “Netflix of transport.” Whim offers experience not ownership. Apparently, it is the world’s first unlimited, all-inclusive monthly travel plan. Using local networks of public transport, taxis and car hire the customer can decide to go anywhere on a whim for a monthly fee of 499 euros. They reckon that the average cost of car ownership in Finland is 504 per month.
Lucy Yu from a British company FiveAi described how artificial intelligence was rapidly improving the safety of self-driving cars. They were becoming safe in any environment and self-driving cars would lead to greater independence, less congestion and lower costs per mile.
Then if we are all to rely more on public transport, ride sharing and self-driven taxis, how are we to easily carry the weekly shopping home? Antti Mäkelä of Starship (not the rock band) had the answer: autonomous delivery robots will deliver all the shopping replacing delivery vans and helping the postman. He envisaged that in three to five years there will be no need to carry any shopping. The Starship robot has been tested in 100 cities, encountered twelve million people and completed 100,000 kilometers of driving. Apart from that it looked cute and doesn’t take up too much space on the pavement.
Options for electric bicycles and other vehicles were presented. Changes may be that drastic that city authorities will have to rethink the regulatory framework and the way urban space usage will change. Maybe the curbside will just be for deliveries and suddenly there will be a lot of street space available for other uses.
Of course, all these advances for mobility come with some problems: trust in society needs to improve — data sharing between operators in particular. No one likes the thought of being tracked all the time, but to make transport efficient operators need to know where and how we move about in the city. City revenues from parking charges will take a hit and cities will look for revenue somewhere else. We also must not forget that there will always be those individuals who like their own space and prefer the comfort of their own car.
Having sampled a small slice of Slush, we concluded that it was very busy, positive and exciting to see the applied and possible application of technology to everyday problems.