Detroit was well known to be the motor city of North America as all the biggest names of the US car industry were settled there. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors helped the city to grow until the economic crisis hit them. Ford, Chrysler and General Motors were not anymore leaders on the automotive market and this had terrible consequences on Detroit – it eventually led to being declared bankrupt in 2013. Now while Detroit is slowly coming back, there is no doubt that the city and the surrounding areas of the state of Michigan are still to be considered a special place for the car industry of North America, and it is not surprising to find here an interesting and innovative company like May Mobility.
May Mobility was founded by Edwin Olson (CEO), Alisyn Malek (COO) and Steve Vozar (CTO) who are automotive industry veterans, leaders in academia and experts in robotics. Edwin Olson, the CEO of May Mobility, has been working on autonomous vehicles for 20 years, first at MIT and then as a faculty member at the University of Michigan. He is currently an Associate Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan. Edwin earned his PhD from MIT in 2008 for work in robot mapping. He has worked on the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge, vehicles for the Ford and Toyota Research Institute, and now May Mobility.
Today we talk to him to find out more about May Mobility and the important role this company could play in the future of sustainable mobility.
What are the most interesting features of May Mobility’s vehicle?
Edwin Olson: Riding in a May Mobility shuttle is hugely different than riding a bus or a traditional car. It’s designed to be personal and seamless– we want riders to use their transit time however they want. People traveling together should feel like it’s a comfortable and private space for them to interact. The physical design of the vehicle reflects this: we have a group of four seats facing each other, surrounded by panoramic windows and a glass roof that create a really unique and socially-engaging experience. Two additional forward-facing riders get a 49” digital display that can deliver media and information backed by high-speed internet access. They can also geek out and see the road through the vehicle’s “eyes” if they want. Rider experience is incredibly important for us at May Mobility.
Under the hood, we take a deep system view, not only building safety deeply into the vehicle’s low-level systems, but also deploying technology outside of the car to further improve safety and performance. In other words, one of the most interesting things about May Mobility’s vehicles is that it’s not just the vehicle– it’s an integrated mobility system that is specifically tailored for every customer.
IN THE PHOTO: May Mobility Shuttle. PHOTO CREDIT: May Mobility
What is your opinion regarding sustainable mobility in future cities? What role could your company potentially play?
Edwin Olson: We’re moving towards a world where privatized cars will be less common. For the individual, fleets of autonomous vehicles spare drivers of parking and getting stuck in traffic. For municipalities struggling with congestion, air quality, and the challenges of providing cost-effective transportation services, autonomous vehicles can be a huge relief. Autonomous vehicles will also help cities convert parking lots into pedestrian walkways, green space, and even more restaurants and retail.
May Mobility aims to ultimately provide an integrated set of mobility services that help cities solve their transportation problems. We’re starting with shuttle services incorporating our autonomous driving technology which have an immense near-term opportunity to help.
IN THE PHOTO: May Mobility Shuttle. PHOTO CREDIT: May Mobility
Considering you come from the Detroit area, the most important area for the automotive industry in the USA, do you think vehicles and companies like yours will help the renaissance of the industry in this area?
Edwin Olson: Our home state of Michigan has been an incredible place to build and test automobiles, and more and more states are opening for business. May Mobility believes that big challenges are great opportunities, that new technology can transform old ways of doing things, and that small companies can become giants. We also believe that the midwest is a fantastic place to build a company–here’s an incredible bench of talent everywhere we look, fantastic universities turning out engineers and researchers that are second to none, and the manufacturing resources that will allow us to scale faster than we could anywhere else in the world.
When are you going to launch your vehicle on the market? Are you going to sell it to companies or run your company?
Edwin Olson: May Mobility offers a fully-managed service rather than selling vehicles. This year, we are launching fully-managed transportation systems with our self-driving shuttles that make traveling safe, personal, and effortless. We operate on selected public and private streets, delivering exceptional rider satisfaction using May Mobility’s unique technology.
IN THE PHOTO: May Mobility shuttle being prepared in the workshop. PHOTO CREDIT: May Mobility
What other further developments do you have in mind?
Edwin Olson: Based on our work with everyday people, we know that a significant fraction have questions or some level of anxiousness about riding in an autonomous car. By working with them, we have learned a lot about how to make them more comfortable. We are proud of the fact that those anxious riders are almost invariably all smiles at the end of their ride with us, and ready and willing to ride again the next day. In the future, we anticipate making changes to the May vehicle to help the riders feel comfortable. Some will be technical– riders can tell when an autonomous vehicle understands what other cars and pedestrians are doing. And some will be more practical– like making sure they have a cup holder for their coffee while they’re buckling in.
Where do you see your company in five years?
Edwin Olson: May Mobility aims to provide the mobility systems that everyone will use everyday, and we believe that our self-driving technology will make these the best solutions for riders and transportation planners. While we’re starting with self-driving shuttles, our technology is applicable to virtually every transportation mode.