BERLIN – In a series of talks with inspirational mobility leaders, we are picking the brains of some of the most influential opinion-makers in the industry. Meeting up with Stephan Leppler, CEO at the university project gone startup MOTIONTAG, we talk about understanding how people travel, when new mobility modes are adopted and how we can work on making ticketing a little bit more modern.
MOTIONTAG strives to provide sustainable, seamless and smart mobility by advocating a switch from to supply-based to user-centred transport. Generating mobility intelligence by integrating your technology into third party apps, you can enable new services that make both cities and providers cleverer. Now, what does this mean?
We are a B2B company that creates services and software which can be integrated into already existing applications. We want to make mobility smarter and to do so, we have to better understand how mobility is lived. What we do in the first place is to form comprehensive travel patterns by leveraging smartphone sensors. If you know how people get from A to B, you can build up new services to support existing ones.
This sounds like aggregating a lot of data.
In detail, it is quite nerdy. Yes, a lot of data processing is needed as well as applying artificial intelligence to enhance the material. The goal is simple: to understand the transportation system, effectively influence it and make it better for the sake of the people and the environment.
What I find really cool is that you’re constantly demonstrating the conflict between a supply and consumer demand. Mobility consists of behavioral patterns and you put them in focus. How are you working on analyzing and utilizing the data that you track?
We have a big problem at the moment. Everyone is talking about consumer demands, but no one knows the demand. Every transport operator has its own silo, but no one connects the dots. We want to get a holistic picture of all mobility, starting with the user — the one element which all mobility is built around.
How do you measure it?
We are analyzing several phone sensors, meaning location data like GPS, wifi and cell towers. On top, we are leveraging on accelerometer data. Through applying algorithms on these sets of data, we have orchestrated “identifiers” of patterns to how people travel, including if it was with a car, bus, scooter, walking, an airplane — whatever mode of transportation you can think off.
So mobility analytics is your thing.
Yes, and what I just mentioned is only a descriptive layer. Additionally, we can apply use cases and serve the individual with software solutions to get a smoother and cheaper trip, or be provided with the right information at the right time. MOTIONTAG can make the transportation experience more seamless and individualized. So unlike the current mass transit system, it actually starts to behave in your favor and according to your preferences.
You mentioned earlier that you can distinguish between different types of modes depending on their acceleration. If I’m changing from a scooter driving 20 km an hour, and a bike driving at approximately the same speed, how are you able to tell what type of vehicle I’m using?
In urban areas it might be that the car, scooter, bike or even the tram are all traveling at the same speed. But to distinguish that we use other sensors then just speed, and one of them is the accelerometer. The accelerometer has three dimensions, x, y and z, and comes in a very high frequency; something between 5–50 Hertz. On each of these axes, there are up to fifty points per seconds.
When you look at a big bus with a diesel engine, it has a very specific vibration pattern. This becomes a fingerprint of the transportation mode. Looking at a rail-based mode, it has a much smoother acceleration and if you’re walking you’re making a completely different pattern. Each way of transport has its own unique fingerprint which helps us to distinguish them.
In an ideal world, where MOTIONTAG is integrated into all different types of mobility solutions, what would the perfect trip look like?
You’re leaving your home, but you won’t need to buy a ticket anymore. Everything happens automatically and you just pay for what you use. If you end up in a crowded train, you’re going to get a notification saying that if you change at the next station to a bus, you’ll probably get a seat and get a discount of ten percent. Your bike-sharing bike is going to be booked and reserved at the end of your bus journey because the bus might not bring you all the way. You can picture it like your personal travel buddy — someone that takes your hand and recommends the most convenient, cost-effective and best way to travel for you.
MOTIONTAG has been around for about three years. How has your offer has been received so far?
The clients we are working with at the moment are digital leaders and have come far in digitizing their offers. Others have to solve some fundamental parts before we can interact with them. If they don’t have a way to issue digital tickets, we can’t really collaborate — yet. Our solution requires that there’s already a platform to integrate with.
We are operating in DACH as of now, and we regard France and the Nordics as very advanced. Besides that there are many interesting markets in Asia and South America that we’d like to explore in the future.
Seeing that you’ve landed some heavy weight clients with a large reach, like SBB and BVG, what can you tell us about how people are traveling today?
People are open to connecting different modes of transportation, also because it is getting more convenient to do so. Shared ridership is increasing and people are using more modes of mobility per trip. Inter-modality is a strong trend.
If we start to operate mobility systems powered by accurate data, transport providers and cities can adapt their strategies to real-time user demand. But what they can also do is predict — as well as change or nudge — travel behaviour. Have you already started to drive in a direction of incentivizing people to travel in a certain way?
We are at the beginning of MaaS systems now. It will take a while before they become effective at informing people of the most convenient way of getting from A to B. It is not only a problem for transport operators to be on their limits of capacity, it is also an issue for you as a user. People tend to dislike overfull public transportation. In the future, we definitely want to collaborate with cities to work for more sustainable mobility, and incentivizing sustainable behavior is part of that.
One final quick question: If you could take a future glance into the next couple of years, where would you want to see MOTIONTAG?
I want to get our solution integrated into the big flagship applications because here they would have the largest reach and add real value.
Founded in 2013, Trafi is a Lithuanian tech start-up. Trafi is working shoulder-to-shoulder with cities, countries, and companies worldwide to create the best in class Mobility-as-a-Service alternative for congested cities. Trafi offers cities the possibility to connect all mobility services into one single platform where users can check itineraries and also book their tickets and trips.
Trafi’s mission is to empower cities’ urban transportation with technology and know-how and encourage citizens to use more sustainable modes of transportation by accessing all services into one single platform. Trafi is currently live in 4 continents around the world and 7 cities.