Our cities are constantly growing and struggling with traffic congestion. At the same time, they want to offer their inhabitants a space worth living in as well as protect the climate. The future of urban transport must therefore be electric, shared, autonomous and connected to public transport. At least it will be if Anne Mellano, traffic engineer and founder of the fleet orchestration platform Bestmile, has her way. ‘Autonomous and electrified mobility will make our cities safer and cleaner but will require shared services and intelligent orchestration, and this will make mobility more efficient and comfortable than driving your own car’, says Mellano. ‘The challenge lies not so much in developing these technologies, but in creating services that really excite travellers, cities and mobility providers’.
Instruction in real time
This is exactly what Bestmile wants to make possible with its fleet orchestration platform. The start-up company offers providers of self-propelled and passenger-operated vehicles a solution for procurement, route planning, matching of vehicles and passengers and vehicle maintenance management. ‘This is about more than just getting people from A to B. It is actually an extremely complex undertaking’, explains Anne Mellano, comparing the work of the platform to an airport control tower: ‘It's about instructing each vehicle – and these can number into the hundreds or thousands – in real time’.
The vehicles are networked via a cloud system so that neither hardware nor software has to be installed. The cloud software is individually adapted to the needs of each individual mobility provider and ensures that the right vehicle is sent to the right place at the right time.
Collective intelligence for autonomous vehicles
The start-up was founded in 2014 by Anne Mellano and Raphaël Gindrat as a spin-off of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL), one of the leading centres in Switzerland in the field of technological research. The two led one of the first pilot tests for autonomous mobility in Europe, where six self-propelled shuttles drove people around the EPFL campus. This enabled Mellano and Gindrat to gain valuable experience. ‘The attempt was a complete success, the vehicles were smart and got from A to B without problems. But something was missing: the vehicles did not communicate with each other’, recalls Anne Mellano. ‘We then realised a kind of collective intelligence is required that knows what is happening in the system and where’.
At around the same time, peer-to-peer ride-hailing services flooded cities with cars but lost money and angered people because the systems were maintained inefficiently. ‘This confirmed the need for orchestration to enable efficient dispatching, ride matching and routing. For vehicles with and without drivers’, says Mellano. Thanks to the successful pilot test at the EPFL, Bestmile received a lot of attention and funding early on and was already fully booked with orders in its first year. Today, the company employs 60 people at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland, and in San Francisco – and works with customers around the world.
Joint mobility for cities
These include public and private mobility service providers with autonomous and non-autonomous vehicles, including some of the largest European public transport companies such as Keolis and Swiss Federal Railways SBB, private ride-hailing and taxi companies, as well as transport network operators and OEMs. They all already rely on improved and automated processes, but Bestmile’s focus is not only on the current business model, but on what customers need when autonomous vehicles come onto the market.
In future terms, Anne Mellano sees Bestmile as the leading and best fleet orchestration platform in the industry. She is convinced that Mobility-as-a-Service models are becoming increasingly important: ‘Consumers are looking for simple apps that enable door-to-door planning and booking of journeys across several modes and offer affordable and comfortable options. Cities will increasingly restrict vehicular access to their centres and mobility providers will have to synchronise more and more with public transport. Shared services will need a platform like ours, behind the app, to ensure the fleets are optimized and work jointly with other modes’.
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