TTV becomes Motus Ventures

Partly because saying and typing “Transportation Technology Ventures” became carpal-tunnel-syndrome-inducing and more because we are expanding our investment focus to connected infrastructure and the “Internet of Things” we are changing our name to Motus Ventures.

Motus_Logo padded

We are setting up a new website at (preview here) and are also changing over twitter, youtube handles etc.

Eventually this website will forward to there automatically, but we thought we’d give you a heads up !



Connected Car APIs & Security

This is a guest post from the Liz Slocum Jensen, CEO of Road Rules, one of the companies we have the pleasure to work with:

APIs are a good way to get started when developing for connected cars, but there is not a lot of information about what is available. Here is an overview of the current landscape of connected car APIs, which I presented at API Days in June 2014. In this presentation, I describe the basic architectures of connected car APIs, which companies use which architecture, and what kinds of data points are available. Finally, I analyze what’s not working and what is.

Security is another hot topic when people discuss cars connecting to the internet. In this guest blog post for Black Duck, I analyze the motivations for car hacking and offer suggestions on how to manage security risks.

Jim Misener joins TTV Board of Advisors

We are very happy to announce that Jim Misener has joined Transportation Technology Venture’s Board of Advisors. Jim is a veteran in the transportation technology sector, extremely knowledgable and well connected. He will be a real asset to TTV and our startups and we are lucky to have him onboard !

Jim Misener

Here is a more detailed bio:

James A. Misener is a transportation and technology consultant, based in the San Francisco Bay Area since 1987. Mr. Misener was an early pioneer in vehicle-highway automation, serving as modeling and simulation lead for the National Automated Highway Systems Consortium, 1995 – 1997. His current clients range from small startups focused on self-driving cars, through large telecommunications firms and to USDOT. From 2010 – 2013, he was Executive Advisor to Booz Allen Hamilton, where he led the Federally-focused Intelligent Transportation Systems and highways business for the firm. From 2008 – 2010, served as Executive Director of the California Partners for Advanced Transit and Highways (PATH) at UC Berkeley. He was with PATH from 1995 – 2010, developing and delivering public and private sector sponsored research with government and industries, with heavy focus on the automotive sector. Mr. Misener has led the initial Connected Vehicle deployment test bed in California along Caltrans right of way, the first such facility in the United States.

Mr. Misener is a member of IEEE, the TRB ITS Committee and is Chair for the SAE Dedicated Short Range Communication Technical Committee. He is US Expert in ISO TC/204 WG 16 – 18, which is focused on applying telematics and safety “ITS terminals” in vehicles and the infrastructure. He also is Chair the ITS America Safety Forum and serves on the Executive Committee for the first responder-focused Transportation Safety Advancement Group. Mr. Misener is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems. He is widely published and speaks frequently at conferences, panels and with industry groups. Mr. Misener holds BS and MS degrees from UCLA and USC.

Jim’s LinkedIn Profile

Upcoming Events


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From Alison Chaiken of the Silicon Valley Automotive Open Source Meetup group, a very helpful list of upcoming events related to connected & self driving cars, apps, law:

On Tuesday December 3, presenters from Adori Labs, Aha! Radio, Swell and the Social Radio will discuss next-generation streaming media systems for automotive applications.
The event will be held in Mentor Graphics’ Fremont Location, just off 880 in Warm Springs. Details:
As always, registration closes at noon the day before the event so that we can order the refreshments.

Tue 12/3, 08:00AM – 10:00AM. Palo Alto  Imagine this: you could be ready for a road trip in the same amount of time it takes to charge your phone. Speakers: Brook Porter, Kleiner Perkins; John Suh, Hyundai Ventures; Eric Wesoff,Greentech Media; Moderated by: Allison Leopold Tilley, Pillsbury

On Wednesday, December 11 at 8 AM PST, Alison Chaiken of Mentor and Toyota’s John Kenny will present a free webinar on the topic of ‘Technology, Business and Regulation of the “Connected Car”‘.    Sign up through
Note that in order to view the webinar, you must sign up through the Google+ page, NOT through the page.

The evening of December 11, Prof. Bryant Walker Smith of Stanford law School will speak about “The Law and Autonomous Vehicles” through the Silicon Valley Autonomous Vehicle Enthusiasts group:

Not automotive per se, but still interesting: Clean Tech Breakfast: Building Smarter Cities with IBM, Streetline, and SVForum! Thursday Dec 12:

On Tuesday December 17, Igniter meetup hosts famed user-experience designer Don Norman
who will speak in part about automotive interfaces.

On January 21, an Uber staffmember will present on “Uber’s use of Big Data Analytics” at Hacker Dojo in Fremont:

Friday February 7, Caltrans will take members on a special tour of the Oakland Traffic Management Center and give us a presentation about the new-tech San Mateo Smart Corridor

On Tuesday, March 11, Felix Baum of Mentor will present on “Automotive Virtualization for Security and Resource Management” in Fremont:

Tentatively on Tuesday Feb 25, Rudi Streif of Linux Foundation will speak about Automotive Grade Linux.

Useful content:

— Slides and video from GENIVI automotive Linux consortium’s Open Automotive Day:

— Slides and video from October’s Automotive Linux Summit:

— Jim Zemlin, head of Linux Foundation, on automotive Linux:

Other great groups:

— Electric Vehicle Entrepreneurs Silicon Valley

— Norcal Society of Automotive Engineers:

Lidar startup Quanergy Raises Seed Round with TTV


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Quanergy Systems raises investment funds for the commercialization of the world’s leading LiDAR sensors for real-time 3D mapping.

Quanergy Systems, Inc. announced today that it has raised investment funds from Transportation Technology Ventures LLC, Wardenclyffe Partners LLC (a new seed fund formed by the founders of Tesla), Newbury Ventures, and Markis. The new financing will be used for the development and commercialization of its Mark VIII LiDAR product.
“We are delighted to have the support of industry veterans and visionaries, as we endeavor to shape the future with smart 3D sensing innovations that will improve people’s lives and enhance their experiences,” said Dr. Louay Eldada, CEO and Co-Founder of Quanergy.

About Quanergy Systems, Inc. (Quanergy):
Quanergy (, founded in November 2012, is developing the world’s leading LiDAR sensors and software for capturing and processing real-time 3D mapping data. In transportation, the data will be utilized to greatly improve the accuracy and reliability of on-board driver safety systems and enhance them with object recognition and scenario analysis capability, and also to enable autonomous driving in the future. Quanergy has established early partnerships with global automotive companies and digital map makers, and will be expanding its market footprint following introduction of the Mark VIII.

About Transportation Technology Ventures LLC (TTV):
TTV ( is an incubator for transportation focused startups ranging from logistics to automotive to smart city infrastructure. TTV currently has four portfolio companies and is expanding its operations in 2014. TTV’s recently announced partnership with City of San Jose and Prospect Silicon Valley ( will enable TTV to offer state-of-the art commercialization facilities and real-world proving grounds for Quanergy and other companies in its portfolio.

Quanergy Systems, Inc.
(408) 542-9584

Join us at the ProspectSV launch event this Thursday at San Jose City Hall



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Transportation Technology Ventures is proud to partner with a new organization, Prospect Silicon Valley for a number of projects, and technology platforms. ProspectSV is a non-profit started by the City of San Jose but operating independently to promote innovation in:

  • connected transportation & mobility
  • smart buildings, devices & infrastructure
  • energy systems

ProspectSV offers existing businesses and startups unique prototyping, demonstration and commercialization tools:

  • a 23,000 ft facility in San Jose
  • a testbed corridor with live traffic & data in North San Jose
  • access to fleet vehicles, data feeds, buildings and programs in conjunction with the City of San Jose

The facility which will open late Spring 2014 has office, meeting room and conference space as well as ample high-bay configurable “garage/workshop”, a vehicle lift, an advanced driving simulation facility and a number of labs. More information about the live testbed corridor and telematics platforms will be available soon.

You are invited to join the ProspectSV announcement event at San Jose City Hall Thursday Nov 7:

You can get an overview of ProspectSV at its website.
And some renderings to give a sense of space.

We are currently talking to a number of companies and academic groups about strategic partnerships with ProspectSV & its platforms. If you are interested, please contact ProspectSV’s executive director Doug Davenport

ProspectSV artist rendering outside 3

Lots of solar power from roof & parking stalls. EV chargers, 200KWh energy storage, all up for prototyping & fielding demos.Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 9.10.15 PM

Conference & Hackathon space as well as open offices, configurable high bay garage space with a vehicle lift. Labs including a driving simulator lab.



Also see NBC Bay Area Article: San Jose Launches Non-Profit to Run Planned Center to Promote ‘Cleantech’ Inventions


Microsoft & Nokia – that went well


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So pretty much everyone expected Microsoft and Nokia to get closer, with the details TBD (does Navteq here get spun out first etc.)

I think the way it turned out is actually pretty good – for Microsoft, for the competitive landscape in mobile as well as Geo and for startups in the market for corporate exits.

Microsoft is playing catch up in the mobile space and now they will be duplicating the Apple vertical integration (software + handsets) model which Google committed to with its Motorola acquisition not too long ago. (And who knows, Samsung may soon decide to pull the trigger and also ship their own OS on their handsets, giving us a fourth major player) Microsoft will no longer have to play the “dancing around the 3rd party hardware partners” issue like they did with less than stellar success in tablets, but instead go “whole hog” on its own with the Nokia handsets.

Microsoft gains a likely CEO with several years of deep immersion in the mobile design, development and marketing world. And the markets seem to have been happy about some sort of change at the helm. My guess is that this has been in the works for a long time (at least a year, perhaps longer ?) and the MS board finally pulled the trigger.

Microsoft pays a good chunk of cash (some others have questioned “why buy the cow when they can have the milk free” – I think the answer is the cow may not have been alive much longer ergo no milk at all) but also gets a juicy mobile patent portfolio – which was the nominal (but certainly not the only) reason Google bought Moto. It is interesting but not quite clear to me what part of the 19B Nokia market cap MS bought for 7.2B and what therefore the value of the remaining businesses are….How does a Nokia shareholder feel today (cash in hand better than bird in bush ?)

Navteq & Nokia Here (the “geo division”)

And, the Navteq/Here division stays separate, allowing it to go cross platform to iOS and Android far less conflicted than they would have been inside Nokia or Microsoft. One would hope that not all the cash goes to Nokia shareholders, some of it will be used to strengthen and accelerate the infrastructure, services, SDKs and apps Here has been working on for a while (and none to soon either)

Why is this good for startups ?

There are not many world scale geo players out there (Google, Apple, Navteq, Tomtom being the large ones) and having a geo department is expensive (I think Navteq ran around break-even at $1B revenue) Thanks to Google’s preventive snap up of Waze, Facebook is not (yet?) a significant player in geo, although it would make sense given their business and user base. If Here – with the Nokia split and money – can overcome the innovator’s dilemma around Navteq – it will present a substantial ongoing competitor in the geo space which is good for startups looking for liquidity events (Apple has been buying a lot of geo startups lately to beef up its operation, but even within Nokia, Navteq/Here was shopping: Trapster, Earthmine are recent examples) I expect the shopping to accelerate now they are strategically unbundled and have some extra cash.


AutoAdvantage Group Announces Investment Partners


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AutoAdvantage Group Inc., a pioneer in E-Commerce applications for connected vehicles, announces the results of a fund raise.

AutoAdvantage Group announced on August 26th that it had raised investment funds from Western Technology Investment (dba Venture Lending & Leasing,, Transportation Technology Ventures (, and several Silicon Valley angel investors to help build the company and launch initial e-commerce applications for connected car infotainment systems.

About the company:

AutoAdvantage Group (AAG), founded in 2012, is developing software applications to collect data generated by vehicle sensors and drivetrain computers, then store this data in the cloud, and use it to enable a new category of mobile purchasing which AAG calls “Automotive E-Commerce”. By combining real-time vehicle data and location information, AAG can deliver qualified customers to fuel/convenience/grocery outlets and automotive service providers.

The management team consists of:

CEO – Jim Disanto
Jim is a 20 year Silicon Valley executive and veteran entrepreneur. Jim has extensive experience in enterprise software, mobile applications, navigation and location based services, and automotive applications. Jim has founded 4 companies which have either been bought or taken public including Vicinity (VCNT) which went public in 2000 and was purchased by Microsoft in 2002

CTO – Robert Seidl
Over the last three decades Robert has founded a number of high tech software companies several of which have been acquired by public companies including PageMill which was acquired by Adobe. Robert is an engineer and has always focused on creating user friendly products especially advanced graphical rendering of complex concepts.

SVP Business Development – Ian MacKinnon
Ian has been involved in consultancy and business development for over 30 years. He managed a buy out of a division of ICL Fujitsu in the UK in 1996 and created ServicePower. As CEO he managed the IPO of ServicePower in March 2000 on the London Stock Exchange then moved to the USA to build up the North American operation. He retired from the company in 2009.

VP of Software Development – Abhay Jain
Abhay has over 15 years of experience in the embedded, mobile applications, big data and cloud services industry. Prior to AAG, he was Founder of ActiveScaeler and Jinvani Systech, where he lead efforts to develop a variety of storage, networking and mobile application and solutions which are still in use by 200 of the Fortune 500 companies worldwide. Prior to AAG, he held various senior positions at Verifone, Intel, AgreeYa, Mirrorplus, iWare, and Newgen. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Computer Science.

AutoAdvantage Group
2100 Geng Road, Suite 200
Palo Alto CA 94303

Vehicle Automation Conference @ Stanford

Attended a very interesting workshop at Stanford last week on the near and long term future of Automated Vehicles organized by the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and intended to both inform as well as gather Research Needs Statements in a variety of subject areas to help focus public and private research over the coming years.

The presentations and discussions ranged from technology (progress and hurdles in sensors, human-machine-interface, V2X, data ownership & privacy) to urban planning implications (smaller lanes, denser & faster roads, fewer parking spaces) to legal issues (liability, privacy, cybersecurity) to insurance to government involvement (how and when should government lead, regulate or not) The time horizon was also quite broad, from European robotic city bus trials in dense urban environments next year to fully automatic cars & urban impacts 25 years out.


The conference included speakers and attendees from industry (OEMs and Tier1s from around the world), academia, and government (NHTSA, DOT, FHA) as well as trade associations (SAE, TRB etc.) and some vendors.

In addition to plenary sessions, there were 2-day long breakout sessions with about 15-40 participants who discussed and prioritized research needs.

There were several special sessions:

  1. SAE On-Road Automated Vehicle Standards (ORAVS) Committee
  2. U.S. DOT Public Stakeholder Engagement Meeting
  3. California-Specific Topics in Road Vehicle Automation
  4. Strategy Day on Emerging Trends in Public Transportation and Vehicle Automation

A variety of researchers presented their work – in – progress at the poster session. There was an open house at the Stanford CARS garage, where amongst many other demonstrations, Cliff Nass’s group showed off their new CHIme Lab Driving Simulator. Bosch, Google and AutonomouStuff (sensor vendor) were showing off their autonomous vehicles & offering attendees rides.

Slides are available for the plenary sessions (below) and some of the breakout sessions & posters (via links above).

These I found particularly interesting:

  • Dirk Rossberg, BMW | Slides
  • Joakim Svensson, Volvo Group (trucks) | Slides
  • Adriano Alessandrini, University of Rome La Sapienza (CityMobil2 aggressive 5-city field trials in dense urban & pedestrian environments next year !) | Slides
  • Maxime Flament, ERTICO, representing the European Commission | Slides also EU Report on necessary vehicle and infrastructure systems for Automated Driving
  • Yasuhiro Okumura, Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism | Slides
  • Jan Becker, Bosch | Slides
  • Arne Bartels, Volkswagen | Slides (also his Testing, Licensing & Certification breakout session slides)
  • Bernard Soriano, California DMVSlides
  • Bryant Walker Smith, Stanford University School of LawSlides



City as a Platform & Open Data Initiatives


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For a brief introduction of this concept, see “Envisioning the City as a Communications Platform“, an interview with New York City’s Chief Digital officer Rachel Hoat.


Tim O’Reilly started his Gov 2.0 conference in 2009 and proposed thinking of the “City as a platform”. San Francisco was one of the first cities to embrace this (ex mayor Gavin Newsom has written a book about it: Citizenville: How to Take the Town Square Digital and Reinvent Government) and started its open data initiative the next year, which has been renewed and grown every year since. The Obama administration has also adopted this idea. In fact, the president just signed an executive order recently to make government data more accessible so entrepreneurs can build applications or services that we haven’t even imagined yet.

The idea is to make a variety of city related information available in machine readable format (eg not scans of printouts etc.) so that the data can easily be read, mashed up & correlated with other sources, visualized and leveraged in new types of applications. By third parties – commercial, non-profit and private – as well other city departments. cabspotting and crimespotting by Stamen Design are classics of innovative data mashups. More recently analytics based on data like this have helped Memphis and Santa Clara target high risk areas and times of day with predictive policing, resulting in lower crime rates.


Another example that started way earlier is Portlands public transport data initiative. In 2005, Portland offered its transit data to Mapquest, Yahoo and Google asking each if they had plans to incorporate public transit into their mapping applications. Only Google replied. Google Transit trip planner became a “20% project” but quickly grew. Google published a “General Transit Feed Specification” data format which allows public and private transit operators to publish their routes, schedules, fares and even real time location of cars, trains etc. Hundreds of municipalities and cities adopted the format and it is a potent addition to Google Directions in Maps. (Try it)

And here is a list of several hundred transit agencies that provide public and private data feeds in this format (for example Santa Clara VTA). Here is Trillium Solutions’ paper “Opportunities to leverage GTFS” which outlines applications well beyond just Google Maps that this transit data enables.

Now entrepreneurs, building on this rich base of transit data, are building customized apps for mobile phones that make intermodal traveling faster and predictable: Nimbler is an example. They allow routing that includes walking, biking, public transport and they are working on integrating rideshare, ad-hoc car rentals, and finding and reserving parking spaces. Without the data, this innovation could not happen – the negotiations with governments for individual data sets to individual entrepreneurs would be too hard or take too long.

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As cities grow denser (and already 80% of the US population lives in cities), the cost and effort to own a car is too much for many individuals. These types of applications, delivered just when needed, on a mobile device, make public transport much more attractive and can increase ridership and therefore build a stronger case for public transport infrastructure, and safer and less congested streets. In addition, these applications can provide data about ridership, demand hotspots etc. back to city and transport planners and allow a more load balanced or dynamic resource allocation. It also frees up downtown parking & garage space as well as improving air quality.

In the private sector, Uber has really been successful in reducing the estimated arrival time from an original 17 minutes to 7 minutes average two years later, based on data collection and ‘big data’ predictive analytics. For example, their algorithms noticed 2am demand spikes around certain places in SF (night clubs closing) or at the end of Giants games at Pac Bell Park. Now they can predict these and pre-position drivers in the right place at the right time. This makes their operations much more efficient and competitive with alternatives. Why notdo the same with trains, trams, buses, subways ? (In fact NYC has just engaged Uber to coopt the taxi lobby in an e-hailing experiment, leveraging Ubers data+app infrastructure but using yellow cabs as the transport implementation)

Another really interesting application, both for end users and city planners (zoning and infrastructure development) are mashups between maps and transit data. For example you can ask OpenTripPlanner Analyst what areas of your city are accessible by public transport & on foot within a certain amount of time. You can see whether your workplace or kids school is reachable in a reasonable time before signing that apartment lease.

Mapnificient is another very well done mashup of this kind. You can even combine two proximity maps: “where can you can I meet for lunch that takes us both less than 20 minutes to get to”. You can see the CalTrain stations like lily pads of easy access in this snapshot:


Again, there is something in it for city planners here too: coders at the Urban Data Challenge hackathon have mashed up economic data with transit information and produced a map of “urban transit quality and equity” – providing better access to poorer areas can make them more desirable and lead to economic growth.

The auto industry and related companies & startups are also noticing the trend of young potential car buyers backing away and are looking to engage with alternative, on-demand transportation. Mercedes invested in Car2Go, BMW in DriveNow, as defensive measures to preserve car sales and brand awareness and conversely Avis acquired ZipCar and Hertz On Demand as offensive measures, capitalizing on those trends. This in addition to about 30 car/ridesharing/pooling startups (Lyft, Uber, Relayrides, etc.)

Top Down: Smart Cities

There is a lot of talk about “smart cities”. Definitions usually include: distributed sensing (road, traffic, air quality, etc. aka Internet of Things or M2M), crowdsourcing / civic involvement, mobility and connectivity (smartphones, Wifi) and big data fusion and analytics for better decision making. Hopefully all with a healthy dose of transparency thrown in.

IBMCiscoSAP etc. all would love to sell each city in the world their (often monolithic) products and services. In reality, there will probably be a mix of bottom up  as well as top down solutions. Megaprojects like the $400M, 30 year LA traffic light synchronization or the California High speed rail project are however, often completely overtaken by newer technology or use cases by the time they are finally ready and funded for implementation. When technology is in heavy flux it is probably better to make many small, incremental bets rather than a single mega bet. For example, think back just six years to 2007, pre-iphone. Most people used their phone to TALK ! Seems quaint now.

The Internet of Things, connected streetlights or trash cans, or parking spaces etc. are examples.

Here is a list of “10 Most Impressive Smart Cities on Earth” with a brief description of what they are doing for each (SF, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Xinjiang, Seattle, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Vienna, NYC, Santiago).

Not to be left behind, oil rich Arab states have recently convened the Arab Future Cities Summit. Qatar’s Ministry for Municipality and Urban Planning alone has earmarked more than US$140 billion for mega projects across the energy, transport, education, health and tourism sectors, much of which is expected to be completed in time for the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Bottom Up: Hackathons

An interesting and fairly cheap way to spread the API & data love as well as to get feedback and application ideas is to organize hackathons around certain themes (transit data, car rentals, electric vehicles and connected homes, smart grid etc.) These are usually 1-2 day overnight events where many ad-hoc teams of 2-5 coders and designers form to bang out an application prototype and at the end of a day&night sprint present for 5 minutes for a modest pot of prizes. You can read my blog entries & see videos from recent Hackathons by Hertz (ad-hoc rentals, electric fleet, business and leisure travel) and BMW (sustainable driving, homes).  Jim and I plan to do these at ProspectSV for connected car related themes to generate a community of innovators and stakeholders and to provide insight into product and data demand to cities and car makers as well as new application ideas.

URBAN PROTOTYPING is a global series of festivals held in cities around the world, exploring how technology, art, and design can serve as tools for civic participation.

The Urban Data Challenge ran from February to March 2013 with events, participants and data from San Francisco, Geneva and Zurich. You can see a list of projects, videos etc at their website. The current one is in London until June 26th.

Here in Silicon Valley, Ford has a Personalized Fuel Efficiency App Challenge that closes in early August with $50K in total prize money.

Key to these hackathons is the availability of easy to use REST over HTTP APIs and lots of data that can be leveraged (including government data). Just to give a flavor, here are some examples from recent hackathons:

  • – 373,029 raw and geospatial datasets
  • genability – comprehensive realtime energy prices, tariffs, load serving entities, time of day & peak pricing etc.
  • – US Energy Information Administration: per state net generation, consumption, cost, price of fossil fuels, electricity. Stocks of fuels, quality (sulfur, ash), power plant level data (465K data sets)
  • General Transit Feed Specs – and list of available public and private transit agency feeds
  • OpenStreetMaps – open source base maps, including bike, indoor and accessibility (blind, wheelchair) focused maps and pluggable routing
  • twilio – voice calling, sms messaging
  • CSRHub – corporate social responsibility (CSR) and sustainability ratings and information
  • DriveNow – BMW ad-hoc EV rentals
  • chargepoint – (formerly Coulomb) EV charging station network and reservations
  • Nokia – maps, routing, gas prices, EV charging stations, POIs
  • VoicePark – parking spot reservations
  • Scoot – SF scooter rentals
  • AT&T – Call management, SMS, speech
  • Hertz Global Reservation APIs,  in car nav system APIs, in car telematics APIs
  • GM – in car infotainment APIs and smartgrid developer network
  • Tons more from ProgrammableWeb


How well prepared is a complex infrastructure like a modern city for emergencies like storms, terrorist attacks, earthquakes etc. ?  Based on recent experiences in New Orleans (Katrina), New York City (Sandy), Haiti (Earthquake), Mumbai (terrorist shooting attack), Pakistan (floods), there is room for improvement. Surprisingly, it is not the traditional public sector or NGOs that provide most innovation or improvements here, it is private startups leveraging networks and mobile devices.

For example, it took weeks for the Red Cross to actually distribute tents to the people that needed them. Meanwhile, first responders needed to dig people out of the rubble, figure out even how to get to them (roads clogged with fallen buildings all over Port-Au-Prince…So a small, ad hoc group of volunteer geeks around the world (!) formed and built tools to collect SMS messages from people in the rubble, crowdsource translation from Creole (local language) into English (first responders). Geoeyes satellites flew over Haiti and Google followed up with high resolution imagery. Crowdsourced, collaborative mappers all around the world as well as on the ground in Haiti updated street maps so that trucks and equipment could be routed through still passable streets. They marked up fires, contaminated water supplies, trapped persons, survivors, collapsed structures and schools. It was an incredibly useful grassroots effort that has led to more persistent crowdsourced information aid organizations like Crisis MappersGoogle Crisis Response Team, and several others.

In the immediate aftermath of a disaster, chaos often reigns. This was the case in the Mumbai attacks where it was unclear how many people were involved, which areas of the city were affected etc. An open source platform called Ushahidi, originally created to monitor election violence in Kenya (again, crowdsourced via mobile phone SMS) was ready to provide much needed information. They has basically created a platform to instantly generate a crisis site / platform. It includes maps, chat, data feeds, and integrate data from SMS, email, Twitter, maps and the web. It provided the ability for family members to say “I am here, I am ok”, for calls to donate blood, show open traffic routes for ambulances and available hospitals for the victims etc. The platform is evolving to provide automatic deduplication and deconflicting tools to help in the information overload in the hours during or after a disaster.


Hurricane Sandy hit New York City hard – it caused $19B damage to NYC and more storms like that to come. During and after the storm, Rachel Haot, New York City’s chief digital officer (!), dealt with social media overload. She was responsible for organizing responses to the hundreds of Twitter questions flooding in and making sure the 200 people who manage social media for the City of New York were uniformly accurate and calm as they disseminated information across multiple channels.  Haot said this was much more effective than putting the onus of approving updates on only a few people, which could have potentially led to a bottleneck.

And though 200 people may seem like a lot of staff to oversee during an emergency, Jessica Lawrence, the executive director of New York Tech Meetup (NYTM), tapped 30,000 technologists for their help in the first days after the storm. One of the first projects that they did was putting up a “coworking crowdmap” with Ushahidi. The public could add available short- and long-term office spaces with Internet and phone access to the map. Very shortly they had over 80 offices spaces available on the map where people could work pretty much immediately after the storm. NY Tech Responds – Google Sandy Crisis Map


Since the storm, Haot has created a new organization, Code Corps, which she hopes will help the city to better tap into its existing community in the wake of the next disaster. “This is a way for the city to partner with organizations that are interested in helping to build technology for life-saving purposes,” Haot said. Haot also spearheaded the City’s first official hackathon, Reinvent NYC.GOV.

Mayor Bloomberg is of course no newcomer to data and technology, having built his commercial empire on just that. He outlined a vision to make NYC the worlds leading digital city, the digital roadmap including infrastructure, education, data (open government), engagement, industry. He has hired Mike Flowers as the City’s Chief Analytics Officer. He runs the Office of Policy and Strategic Planning, aka “The Mayor’s Geek Squad“. They collect, correlate and publish the city’s “big data”.

For example (see video from Mikes presentation to Code for America), New York City gets roughly 25,000 illegal-conversion complaints a year, but it has only 200 inspectors to handle them.  Initially, much of the data wasn’t in usable form. For instance, the city’s record keepers did not use a single, standard way to describe location; every agency and department seemed to have its own approach. The buildings department assigns every structure a unique building number. The housing preservation department has a different numbering system. The tax department gives each property an identifier based on borough, block, and lot. The police use Cartesian coordinates. The fire department relies on a system of proximity to “call boxes” related to the location of firehouses, even though call boxes are defunct. Flower’s team cleaned up the data and figured out what factors are strong predictors for high risk (catastrophic fire in this case)  Even with a simple targeting algorithm, inspector issued vacate orders went from a 13% to a – sustained – 70% because of better prediction. And they were able to allocate inspections based on risk (rather than 311 complaint frequency which was used previously) – and consequently save tenant and firefighter lives and injuries.

A second less sexy example dealt with illegal yellow grease dumping mostly from restaurants which pollutes water, clogs piping, increases fire risk. Correlating waster hauler data with restaurant licenses AND manhole blockages yielded the insight that restaurants with no wastehaulers for solid waste and brown grease are 3.6 times (!) as likely to have problem manholes within 600 feet.

More details about data driven decision making in New York City:

Slate: “Big Data in the Big Apple

O’Reilly: Predictive data analytics is saving lives and taxpayer dollars in New York City

Agencies like OpenPlans or Trillium Solutions have made it their business to provide tools and consulting to local governments looking to open up their data.

Final thought (finally…)

By establishing a digital plan, a data and media team and open data policies and workflows, the city not only prepares itself better for disasters, it becomes more efficient, creates services more responsive to its citizen’s needs, makes better use of assets (like transportation infrastructure) and saves money.

If all of that sounds politically overwhelming / impossible, perhaps starting with just an open data initiative, modeled on San Francisco would be a great kick off.

PS: with apologies to the patient reader, “If I had more time, I would have written a shorter blog post.”