Two Key Mobility Events on the Same Day!

I expect any U.S.-based automotive development professional will tell you the best place to see the future of transportation while interacting with other key industry players is in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in January during press days. So why will the top executive of the leading upcoming self-driving car company be 500 miles away on one of those days, speaking to a large audience of mobility development professionals in Washington, DC? Because unfortunately, two major mobility events happen at the same exact time each year.

The executive is Chris Urmson, and he is in charge of Google’s Self-Driving Car Project. He will be talking to mobility development and research professionals at the other big mobility event, the Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Annual Meeting. 

TRB is an information exchange on current transportation research and practice where over 12,000 transportation professionals focused on the larger-than-auto mobility ecosystem (highways, public transit, airports, marine, freight, and rail) attend each year. I can understand why automotive development professionals have overlooked TRB in the past, but things are changing in the industry and I encourage automotive design and technical professionals to attend in the future. There is much for a new mobility development professional to learn at TRB.

As companies like BMW, Daimler, Ford and others advance towards their autonomous and shared mobility businesses, key people in these companies will do well to attend TRB and to become involved. The future of smart mobility requires companies to know the infrastructure players well and be able to work with many new collaborators to create our mobility future, many of these people can be found at TRB in early January.

While there are few future cars to be seen at TRB, it is exciting to see presentations that range from autonomous vehicles to other advanced mobility systems, including the world of air and water travel. There are also many presentations and meetings about new urban mobility environments that might offer opportunities for carshare providers or other new mobility service companies to connect with.

TRB was established in 1920 as the National Advisory Board on Highway Research. After 1974, TRB’s portfolio of services greatly expanded and is now organized into a variety of divisions focused on technical programs, studies, special programs and cooperative research programs covering the many modes I mentioned earlier. Results from many federally funded mobility research programs are discussed there each year.

I have served on one TRB committee for over 10 years, New Public Transportation Systems & Technology. Every year at TRB, the committee meetings are very exciting because there are always new players joining the process.  Many people come from Europe and Asia for the Annual Meeting to discuss really big ideas around our mobility future. It’s not only technical people that attend. It’s common to meet mobility-related marketing, operations and other business leaders there. And there is a growing number of entrepreneurs attending, as well. It’s very inspiring!

NAIAS and TRB are not the only big January mobility events. Many automakers are now presenting at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) January 6-9th in Las Vegas, where 140,000 industry people attend. At CES, the latest offerings in the Internet of Things, wearables, robots, home automation, future TV and 3D printing segments take center stage. Automobile manufacturers showing self-driving or other new intelligent mobility application are now using CES as their platform of choice to market these future mobility vehicles and features.

Early in my career as an automotive designer, I was excited about the press days at NAIAS because I had terrific access to the new show cars on display, as well as the opportunity to meet associates and good friends in the industry. Now I would rather spend time at TRB to connect with a growing group of mobility professionals who are working to create new urban mobility networks that I expect will generate tremendous revenue in the future. My dream is that NAIAS and TRB could stagger their dates just enough for new mobility development professionals to attend both each year. Whether that happens or not, both venues are critically important for the industry.