"When I joined the transportation industry, I never in a million years thought automation of shuttle buses could have been a reality. I vividly remember when Ultra Global PRT opened their POD service at Heathrow Airport; I remember being amazed by these little pods, running on a dedicated guideway, with no operator. This for me was my first insight to autonomy, and from that point I knew this was an industry I wanted to work in."
Ahead of SmartTransit LA, we sat down with Joseph Holmes, Sales Director at EasyMile, for a quick chat about his job and the sector's latest automation and first/last mile advances.
Joseph will be a speaker in SmartTransit LA on October 28-30th. where he will talk about the latest developments on self-driving vehicles in a presentation relevant to industry experts and decision makers alike. Join us at LA for the full topic, and read a taste of his best insights below, after the break.
First off, a bit of background: How did you started your current career path, and what does your position as Sales Director of EasyMile entails?
My career started on the UK railway. I have always had a fascination with the railway, and my first job was working at Reading railway station on the ticket barriers. There I was checking passengers tickets, helping them to their trains etc, and I quickly fell in love with being a part of hundreds, sometimes thousands of people's journeys and helping them along their way!
From there, I joined the Graduate Program that FirstGroup PLC ran, which was essentially a fast track management program within the operations field. This opportunity saw me working across the firm in both the UK and the US. From there, I began working for First Transit in the United States within their Innovation Team as an internal consultant on new technologies for prospective and existing customers.
A few years later the company EasyMile, a leader in Autonomous technology, had a job posting for a Sales Director position! It was a great opportunity for me to move from internal sales to external sales, so in 2017 I joined EasyMile as their Director of Sales and moved to Denver from the East Coast.
How has the transportation sector changed since you started working in it?
When I joined the transportation industry back in 2005, I never in a million years thought automation of 12-15 passenger shuttle buses on public/private roads could have been a reality. I vividly remember when Ultra (Urban Light Transit) Global PRT opened their POD service at Heathrow Airport -- I remember being amazed by these little pods, running on a dedicated guideway, with no operator. This for me was my first insight to autonomy, and from that point I knew this was an industry I wanted to work in.
What industry challenges do you identify as the most pressing ones, and how is EasyMile tackling them?
Setting the expectations for this industry is certainly a challenge. Today, the technology is ideal for short trips at a relatively low speed, and sometimes there is an expectation of autonomous shuttles today being able to travel at more than 30 MPH over considerable miles. Today, we firmly believe that technology is most suited for first/last mile connections, airport environments, business parks, university campuses, residential areas, hospitals, etc.
What’s the current status on driverless technology, and is there any current or potential future trends that interest you?
The state of the technology is not only rapidly developing, but new players keep popping up on within the market, which is very exciting. However, what we’re most excited about is companies - like our partner Continential for example - creating industrial grade sensors (LiDAR, Radars, and etc) as today, the majority of vendors in this space come from the robotic world, not the automotive world.
Also, what interests us at EasyMile is the application of our technology across a wide range of platforms. Today, EasyMile is best known for our EZ10 product: our 12-15-passengers fully electric, automated to SAE Level 4 shuttle. However, we also have a larger bus project with the company called IVECO for the 100-passengers bus, and our TractEasy product which is an automated baggage tractor from TLD. We’re excited about several other projects across a wide range of industries that we will be in a position to announce shortly.
You guys have projects all over the world -- what were the most noteworthy challenges you solved (or are in the process of solving?)
All our projects around the world are unique in what they are looking to achieve, and we love them all. In particular, the Utah Department of Transportation is seeking to demonstrate, test, and research the application of automated vehicles’ viability today (and naturally, we're very interested in those results).
In addition, we’re proud of recently being awarded a project in the City of Columbus (as part of the Smart City project that Columbus competed against 77 cities nationwide, in order to win the Smart City Challenge in 2016). This project will be testing and demonstrating autonomous vehicles within opportunity communities, to help bridge the gap and bring riders to existing transportation options.
What's the biggest professional challenge you've ever faced?
Personally, moving from the stability of a FTSE250 company like FirstGroup to a relatively small start-up in EasyMile.
Are there any past projects in your life you're proud of? Are there any upcoming ones you're excited about?
There are two key projects I am most proud of. Firstly, being a part of EasyMile’s first deployment in North America in California, at the GoMentum Station. That was one of ten AV testing grounds that former Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx established under the Obama administration, and it was a huge achievement that helped put EasyMile on the map for the North American market.
In addition to this, working with one of our partners Pacific Western Transportation on the West Coast of Canada and TransDev on the East Coast. Bringing our EZ10 shuttle to this market was a huge achievement for us as a business, and something that I was proud to be a part of!
Finally, a question we ask all our interviewees: what's your favourite rail, car, or flight journey in the world, and why?
Without doubt for me, it's the rail journey between Exeter St Davids to Newton Abbot in South Devon; that section of track where the rail line runs right along the Dawlish sea wall. It is truly epic, and it brings back a lot of great memories for me!
To meet Joseph and other fantastic industry speakers, decision makers, and sector experts, join us at SmartTransit LA 2019, on October 28-30th!