Mobility Co-Creation—from the U.S. DOT

In the past decade I have seen a lot of thinking on how to better develop new mobility products and services. While you might expect the most impressive innovation to come from a leading automobile manufacturer, I’ll surprise you: one of the boldest new approaches comes from the United States Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT). The concept is called the “Digital Transportation Exchange” (DTE; transportation.gov/open/DTE), and while it has struggled to launch, it’s poised to become an important blueprint on how we develop urban mobility systems in the future.

The U.S. DOT’s website states: “The Digital Transportation Exchange (DTE) concept will connect citizens and businesses, state and local governments, entrepreneurs, researchers and investors through a public-private partnership like never before—creating a thriving marketplace for multi-modal transportation solutions.”

Rather than industry, governments, entrepreneurs, investors and academia all working in their separate “silos” developing their own slice of the mobility future, DTE proposes to bring everyone together in a new “LinkedIn-style” portal dedicated to transportation. In fact, the concept goes further, by proposing to include a multitude of consumers directly in this new transportation design “engine” as well.

“Co-creation” offers to be an essential way we design the mobility future, when 3D printing and new technologies allow U.S. to create custom new mobility solutions for smaller more targeted (city or regional) markets. Realizing the DTE concept will be challenging, and require an all-new way for companies and government to do business. There are many questions to be answered about this new collaborative mobility design and development model, about how it works and what it can achieve.

Nitin Pradhan conceived of the DTE concept while serving as the Chief Information Officer for the U.S. DOT. I applaud his vision and his ability to get the U.S. DOT to begin thinking about a new approach to mobility innovation in the United States. 

Please do not write off the DTE concept because it has yet to be realized. It’s a powerful idea and we should be discussing how to help the idea get traction. Re-inventing global surface mobility is an enormous. undertaking. I don’t know of any company that has a new transportation system for a city in their portfolio. There is a lot to learn from the DTE, even as an undeveloped concept.

In 1999, I read a very interesting article by highly innovative “design-mind” John Thackara, who has served as the director of the Netherlands Design Institute and creator of the Doors of Perception conferences. In the article, John explained how the (product or car) designer in the future would become more of a “facilitator”, connected to a multitude of consumer-collaborators. He felt the Internet allowed for major companies to create new meaningful relationships with their customers and better create solutions that met their needs—and it’s now turning out he was correct.

The same year Thackara was making these predictions, I met with the digital leader at Ford focusing on their customers. He said Ford had 50-million email addresses to their customers around the world. When I heard this, I immediately began to dream about creating a new type of “design show” to interact with this massive audience, and together with interested customers, begin to conceive of new products and services that best met their needs—all together. 

I am not sure how the U.S. DOT’s Digital Transportation Exchange is going to get traction, but I am certain this concept, or something like it, will become how we innovate new vehicle/mobility solutions in our future. Pradhan and the U.S. DOT should be very proud of their terrific idea.  


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Dan Sturges is mobility design consultant for team red and has been supporting “transformative” transportation projects for nearly 30 years. He trained as a car designer and worked as an entrepreneur to bring to market a new intermediate vehicle category. He supports a wide range of vehicle design and mobility planning efforts for both government and corporate entities.