posted on March 24th, 2017

Doing the hard work of mobility

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate in a panel organized by Stanford’s innovative Center for Automotive Research (CAR). Held at their Automotive Innovation Facility (a car enthusiast’s dream space), the workshop centered around the operational challenges of shared mobility.  

Beyond the ability to take a step back to review the wide array of innovation occurring in transportation, I thought two topics were particularly noteworthy:


Everyone who spoke acknowledged that meaningful operational enhancements were driven by technologies such as GPS, sensors, portable devices, and machine learning. Lyft emphasized how GPS essentially enabled the entire ridesharing industry. True to their slogan, BMW builds ultimate driving machines. Turo uses machine learning to enhance search, pricing, and keep our community safe.

There were also many examples of innovations that utilized psychology. Early on, the Lyft pink mustache infamously helped riders identify their ride. Turo also has invested mightily in a reputation system that involves psychological subtleties of social convention. A traveler can not only leave a public review and rating for a trip, but can also leave private feedback for the owner and send private feedback just to Turo. This allows travelers to be open and honest without offending their hosts. When advanced technology is combined with shrewd psychology to approach shared mobility issues, it can be quite powerful.


With the explosion of innovation in service offerings and cars themselves, ensuring that each company has clarity on what makes its offering useful is paramount. This became particularly interesting as the discussion veered into the future of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles. Lyft already puts a tremendous emphasis on the ride experience. Now, they’re starting to contemplate what could be done to improve it with cars designed from the ground-up for autonomy. For Turo, autonomy underscores two values: selection and convenience. Different levels of autonomy will add an exciting new dimension to Turo’s unique vehicle inventory. Having exclusive access to an autonomous Turo vehicle for the duration of a multi-day trip underscores the convenience of a Turo rental.  

Also, I wanted to give a brief shoutout to SilverRide, who spoke earlier in the morning. SilverRide offers door-to-door ridesharing that makes transportation easy, safe, and convenient for the elderly. SilverRide stories are as heartwarming as you can imagine, as these services deploy technology that give independence and convenience to this underserved segment. As transportation is revolutionized, it’s inspirational to hear about these types of companies.

Thanks again to Stephen Zoepf, the Executive Director of the Center of Automotive Research, for hosting me, and to Reilly Brennan for connecting us with Stanford.

Tom is Turo's Chief Product Officer. His favorite colors (and adventures) are usually found on Mt. Tam.