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InTransition Magazine : Transportation Planning, Practice & Progress

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Technical Toolbox

As the Economy Comes Back, Innovators Come Out in the Black

Some Tech-Oriented Companies Prospered in Recession on Strength of Ideas

By Keith Hamas

It can take a bit of innovation to bypass congestion on the road to economic recovery. The fear of loss associated with the downturn has caused many transportation sector companies to take dramatic steps aimed at cutting costs.
But for others, the hard times have served as additional motivation to find alternate routes through innovative actions and behavioral changes. Some enterprising players in the transportation sector have thrived through the recession by innovating a wide range products and services.

Whether large or small, these companies have managed to bring environmental and operational efficiency to the movement of people, goods and services during difficult circumstances. While offering a model of achievement for future startups, they also stand poised to continue making their own strides towards sustainable growth in the transportation industry.

Freight Logistics: Load Delivered Logistics

Founding partners Jon Michelon and Robert Nathan launched their third party logistics (3PL) startup in 2008, just as the U.S. economy entered into a headlong plunge. Since its inception, the company has doubled in size and revenue each year. Now, Nathan, the 30-year-old CEO of Load Delivered Logistics, has 62 on staff and the capacity to land Fortune 500 accounts.

load delivered

The Load Finder is one of a growing number of apps designed to automate

operations for freight carriers.

The Chicago-based 3PL’s latest contribution to the freight industry is the Load Finder mobile app, which helps automate bidding and procuring for freight carriers. The app allows small operators to remotely view and bid on loads from the palm of their hand, saving time, money and fuel in delivering goods. While Load Delivered didn’t invent this mobile technology, a rapidly growing membership of 10,000 carriers shows they know how to execute it.

“We’re planning for the next generation,” said Ross Vigil, director of marketing at Load Delivered. As the baby boomers approach their exit from the workforce, the new business model aims to shape business operations for the next generation, which is more accustomed to engaging in mobile technology. Moving forward, Vigil said, the company will add features such as route optimization in the next versions of Load Finder. Beyond that, more work will go into creating a robust integrated web portal that enables the company to optimally match freight loads with carriers according to online profiles.


Solar-powered Bus Shelters: Go Green Solar

Solar-powered bus shelters have been done before, said Deep Patel, CEO of GoGreenSolar (GGS). The innovation in the GGS concept is a connection that powers the street utilities and even feeds power back into the grid. “It’s a mini power plant and if you scatter enough of them, it becomes a larger power plant,” Patel said.

solar bus shelter

Solar panels on the roofs of GoGreenSolar bus shelters produce

electricity for street utilities and the grid.

The small California-based startup was founded in 2006 with a focus on selling solar hardware and eventually expanded into installation and financing of the equipment. The first GGS power generation concept for bus shelters was implemented in Corona, Cal., in 2011. The municipality’s solar infrastructure quickly went from a cost to an asset as it virtually eliminated the expense of powering intersections. While the $14,500 cost per unit is more than 15 percent higher than standard shelters, the grid connection and power generation qualify it for federal tax grant programs and solar initiative rebates that make the net costs more competitive.

The bus shelter project signifies a more local application of solar power in comparison to building vast installations in fields or remote open spaces, which can require more intensive infrastructure to connect to the grid. “We bring a solution to the solar market,” Patel said. Getting a larger share of the market, however, will require some outreach and education, he said, since many bus shelters are provided by advertising agencies to cities in exchange for advertising space. “The challenge is in changing the mindset of decision-makers who control the bus shelters,” Patel said.


Mobile Technology: Triangle Software

The term “eco-driving” has found its way into the transportation vernacular, and its increasing market presence is evident in the work of startups such as Triangle Software. This growing traffic information provider recently created Drivee, a mobile phone application designed to help drivers reduce their environmental impact. The app offers a friendly interface to a statistical calculator which delivers information on the environmental impacts of trips and advice for employing eco-driving along those routes. Motorists can make best use of the app by modifying their driving to maximize fuel economy, minimize carbon emissions and increase safety, the three defining components of eco-driving.

The California-based startup is, perhaps, even better known for its award-winning Beat the Traffic products, which provide real-time traffic information to media companies and over 2 million mobile devices. While the company provides traffic prediction software to over 60 television stations and through an Internet portal, the newer on-the-go products provide two-way data flow for accurate historical, real-time and predictive traffic analysis.

The evolution in how transportation news is consumed has contributed to the company’s growth in the mobile platform and virtual products. “We’ve grown the customer base 33 percent in the past year through recession,” said Andrew Gueziec, the founder and CEO of Triangle Software. “This speaks to the quality of our product and how it allows our traditional media customers and others to recoup their investment already in the first year of ownership.” The Beat the Traffic software crunches speed, trip time and dynamic (traffic-based) routing data to help motorists save both time and energy on the road. While the industry is rapidly changing, Gueziec said he hopes to combine the functions of Drivee and Beat the Traffic toward a unified goal of avoiding waste due to traffic.


Smart Parking: Streetline Products

While Google has virtually revolutionized the availability of on-the-go navigation and trip time information, it’s an incomplete service if motorists arrive at their destination only to find a lack of parking. Studies estimate that up to 30 percent of local traffic can be attributed to cruising for parking, according to Justin Bean, the marketing manager at Streetline. The California-based startup offers an innovative software package to help complete trips by streamlining the experience of finding convenient available parking near a destination.

Streetline’s ground-mounted sensors and apps provide real-time data

on when and where parking spaces open up.

The system begins with a hockey puck-sized sensor, embedded in the pavement at a parking space, which communicates through the digital network when a space is available. A three-pronged software package attempts to deliver the product across the parking spectrum to cities, parking providers and consumers:

•  For consumers, a friendly mobile app interface guides drivers to the nearest available parking, sorted by price. In addition to guidance, the Parker mobile app service also offers convenience features such as text message alerts when meter time expires, electronic payment for time extensions, and navigation back to the space.

• For parking providers, the Streetline Park Edge platform enables a parking garage to publish real-time availability data and offer reservations.

•  For cities, Park Sight Portal provides real-time data, enabling cities to analyze and identify hotspots. This carries implications for problem-solving and policy development such as dynamic pricing schemes.

The company’s presence is strongest in Los Angeles, but it’s rapidly being adopted in cities across the nation. Streetline also benefits from integrating with partners such as IBM and Citi, who bring their own strengths to the table for widespread deployment. “As the technology becomes more widely adopted and, ultimately, makes its way into in-car navigation, we believe the idea of ‘searching for parking’ will become a thing of the past,” Bean said.


EV Battery development: Envia Systems

The automotive industry has markedly increased its focus on the electric vehicle (EV) market with the introduction of new plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles. As the shift to battery power hastens, so will the competitive pursuit of a reliable, cost-effective battery technology that can rival the driving range of the standard petroleum-fueled vehicle.

Envia Systems is earning recognition as a potential leader in the upcoming EV battery technology battle. The California-based company promises both a price drop and a range jump with its record-breaking energy density advancements, as documented at the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) Summit in February. A 2009 ARPA grant for $4 million enabled the startup to develop high-capacity battery materials that achieved a world record energy density of 400 watt-hours per kilogram (Wh/kg), a metric that has the potential to double the current average EV battery range at half the cost.

If these projections hold true, the EV market may see dramatic growth in two to four years as Envia Systems puts its pre-production technology through rigorous safety and qualification trials. While Envia Systems’ lithium-ion battery technology relied primarily on public grants for research and development, it more recently attracted a much larger contract from General Motors’ venture unit as well as several other private sector investments.


Emissions Modeling: Reaction Design

As policymakers apply more pressure on the auto industry to produce cleaner engines, the weight invariably shifts to pre-production. In the past, this would translate into manufacturers pouring time and monetary resources into building engine prototypes that would have to advance through tedious experimental cycles. Reaction Design, a California-based software supplier, is leading the industry toward a slimmer paradigm by enabling “virtual prototyping” to save time and money in meeting clean engine technology goals.

“We’re just at that leading, bleeding edge and that’s where we attribute the growth and the direction going forward,” said Bernie Rosenthal, the CEO of Reaction Design. The FORTE 3D modeling software product enables engine designers to accurately predict fuel effects of internal combustion engines prior to developing and testing real hardware. “Doing it in 3D—virtually on the computer—gives a better idea of how to direct prototyping or investments,” Rosenthal said.

The company was founded on innovation in the late 1990s as it used emissions modeling software (previously meant for locating the launch origin of missiles) for modeling the combustion chambers of internal combustion engines. This innovation is now, increasingly, an industry standard. As emissions reduction continues driving the transportation industry, the focus on clean engine technology goals through computer simulation may just be the beginning of a larger trend toward the virtualization of transportation products. “I think the growth in this area is in front of us,” Rosenthal said.


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