Getting Started On My Life’s Work
My professional goal in life is to drastically improve the efficiency of Human Transportation. My dad has spent the entirety of his career engaged in the shipping industry, and has witnessed the maturation of one of the most efficient transportation processes ever. If we look at the example of Amazon, UPS has enabled us to order anything I want and have it shipped to almost anywhere, in just a matter of days. The efficiency with which we can move stuff around this planet never ceases to amaze me. But it infuriates me that we have not come further with the systems we use to move human beings around. There are 3 main types of waste I have noticed: energy, time, and attention. Here are a few examples of this:
From an efficiency standpoint, cars suck. I have driven one of the world’s most efficient vehicles (a solar car) across an entire continent. The single most effective way to improve vehicle efficiency at highway speeds is to reduce aerodynamic drag. The reason that doesn’t happen is not for lack of technology (see Aptera). It is due to consumer aesthetic preferences. This is why I have become an entrepreneur and not a scientist. But even if we improved the efficiency of every vehicle on the road, the system is still flawed.
When I watch my friend Phillip, a PhD candidate in Materials Science, drive his car for 3 hours every day to get from his home to school, I get frustrated. Those 3 hours steal pieces of Phillip’s life, time during which he could be doing world-changing research (in arguably one of today’s most valuable fields in applied science), or even spending quality time with his wife. But he loses nearly one month’s worth of time per year because driving a car along the interstate is the only option our modern society presents him to get from point A to point B.
From a safety standpoint, I have watched half a dozen of my friends lose their lives to automobile accidents. None were impaired by drugs or alcohol, but several were impaired by trying to be a normal human while being expected to simultaneously operate a 2000-pound guided missile. While my parents’ generation wears little pink ribbons to support breast cancer research, I want to wear a ribbon to support whatever will stop cars from killing my friends. It turns out, people have a finite amount of attention, and when we focus on multiple things (like driving and doing anything else), our performance suffers. This problem is systemic in nature, and our current attempts at fixing it are merely patches.
The system level is where I want to do my life’s work. I believe it’s the only way to make a significant reduction in the energy, time, and attention that human transportation requires. With solar car (and personal experiments), I’ve mettled on the vehicle side, but realized that the most opportunity for change is in human behavior. To avoid being rejected by the host, however, this change must be done in a non-jarring way, and it must exhibit a positive customer experience differential over the current situation. With AwesomeTouch and BuildingLayer, we’re starting to change the system of indoor navigation to better mimic the outdoor navigation we’re used to. Research shows that the insides of buildings are actually some of the toughest places for pedestrians to navigate. If we can make a dent in this problem, I feel good about our generational opportunity to use software and smart people to reduce the energy, time, and attention consumed by public transit, automotive, and air travel. The question I’ll be asking a lot over the next 20-50 years: what’s your ETA?