The Station - Predictions 2021: Part two

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Sunday, January 10, 2021 By Kirsten Korosec

Hi friends and new readers, welcome back to The Station, a newsletter dedicated to all the present and future ways people and packages move from Point A to Point B.

Last week, I provided some of my predictions for 2021 focused on autonomous vehicle technology and electric vehicles. I’ll weigh in today with a few predictions about the rest of the “future of transportation” sector, including ride-hailing, on-demand delivery and in-car tech.

Email me at kirsten.korosec@techcrunch.com to share thoughts, criticisms, offer up opinions or tips. You can also send a direct message to me at Twitter — @kirstenkorosec.

Predictions: Part two

Alrighty, here’s the remaining predictions for the 2021.

Delivery (the human powered kind)

On-demand delivery will continue to grow even as consumers return to physical stores, which will put pressure on the logistics ecosystem. The retailers that have the best success will be the ones that have locked in multiple channels to get their “goods” to the consumer.

Big retailers and even smaller local stores have come to understand that their physical location has become an extended part of the supply chain. Startups that have developed platforms to make it easier to manage inventory and get it to the consumer will continue to pop up.

Meanwhile, the increase in demand for delivery will encourage giants like Amazon and Walmart invest in technological solutions to meet their needs. This might include partnering with or acquiring startups. (This goes beyond interests in longer term efforts like autonomous vehicle delivery).

Delivery apps such as Uber Eats, DoorDash and Instacart will face increased scrutiny for use of gig economy workers as well as whether businesses benefit from using them. This may very well spawn local businesses to find their own in-house solutions. Demand will rise for digital tools that help optimize delivery fleets and platforms designed to help companies gets goods to consumers without relying on Uber, DoorDash and others.

Restaurant groups will pull together to offer delivery hubs from ghost kitchens, a prediction that mirrors one shared with me from Khaled Naim, the CEO last mile delivery management software startup Onfleet. I believe local stores will make the same efforts. 

I expect more pitches from companies hawking curbside management tools and subscription delivery platforms.

On the ride-hailing front, shuttle companies like Via will continue to grow (despite concerns about sharing rides) and make acquisitions to round out their current offerings. Via will continue to sell its platform to cities as opposed to standing up more of its own operations. Via handles booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience and fleet management. And it will likely look for ways to broaden its services to become more appealing.

In-car tech

Some of the trends that started two years ago will continue to play out. Automakers are increasing the size and display resolution of infotainment screens in its vehicles. Sadly, only a handful will unlock the more important piece of the infotainment system: the user interface.

Two announcements this past week — one from holographic startup Envisics and the other from Mercedes — hint at what’s to come in 2021.

Mercedes unveiled January 7 its next-generation MBUX Hyperscreen, which features a 56-inch curved screen that runs the length of the dashboard. The MBUX Hyperscreen will be optional in the 2022 Mercedes EQS, the flagship sedan under the automaker's electric EQ brand.

I’m interested and maybe even encouraged (I have yet to test it) in the UI. Mercedes chose to put information on charging, entertainment, phone, navigation, social media, connectivity and massage — yes massage — right up front on the screen. This means no scrolling through menus or using the voice assistant to locate these options.

The system's software, which will learn the patterns of the driver, will prompt the user, removing any need to go deeper into the sub-menu. The navigation map is always visible in the center and located just below it are the controls for the phone and entertainment — or the feature that best suits the specific situation, according to the automaker.

Meanwhile, Envisics announced a partnership with Panasonic Automotive Systems to jointly develop and commercialize a new generation of head-up displays for cars, trucks and SUVs.

Envisics’ technology allows for head-up displays to have higher resolution, wide color gamut and large images that can be overlaid upon reality. The technology can also project information at multiple distances simultaneously. The company’s founder Jamieson Christmas told me that in the short term this will provide relatively simple augmented reality applications like navigation, highlighting the lane you're supposed to be in and some safety applications.

“But as you look forward into things like autonomous driving it unlocks a whole realm of other opportunities like entertainment and video conferencing," he said.

Finally, I expect more chatter and maybe even deployments of driver monitoring systems as automakers roll out more advanced driver assistance systems that allow for “hands-free” operations in certain conditions.

I want to stress however, that having a DMS is only part of the solution. The safe operation of an advanced driver assistance system comes down to how well the driver understands the features and can easily see or hear when they’re on and off. A number of vehicle models, with the regular ol’ less “advanced versions of ADAS, already fail at properly communicating to drivers when features are on and off. My hope for 2021 and beyond is that there’s an effort to improve this shortfall.

Predictions: Part two image

Image Credits: Mercedes-Benz

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