The changing face of cars, from the likes of Uber and Lyft, to the possible onslaught of driverless cars from everyone from Tesla to Google and back, has traditional automakers trying to get ahead of the game. It seems like dealing with this is taking up 90% of the carmakers bandwidth these days.
Let’s call it Smart Mobility, for the sake of this discussion.
Infiniti is one such carmaker seeking to stay ahead of the game, and to do so, they are opening a tech center in, of all places, Singapore.
Singapore, is, to put it mildly, an odd place. Once little more than an outpost for British colonialism, it morphed over time into a strange hybrid crossroads-of-the-world and nascent tech giant. A modern city-state with rather, a-hem, arcane ideas about peace and justice. A place where there’s enough high tech everything to look like Spock’s suburb but where chewing gum will get you dragged before the firing squad.
Or, as cyberpunk author William Gibson put it: “Disneyland with the death penalty.”
Challenges & Obstacles
In a lot of tech oriented ways, if you want to break new ground and move things forward, it’s a pretty good environment to do that in. From an automotive perspective, Singapore is a nightmare. And I don’t just mean from a price, taxes, and cost of ownership perspective (although that is daunting enough). Singapore has streets and traffic of an outright disastrous nature. Take Manhattan, combine it with Cairo, and compress it down to the density of a neutron star, and you’re halfway to as crazy as driving a car in Singapore.
Designing any sort of personal mobility, from a pair of sneakers on up to a functioning automobile, to work in that sort of environment seems like madness. Like testing a Formula 1 car in a high school library. Sure, you might get it to run, but what happens when you get it out onto a real race track?
Setting The Scene
Into this crazed scene jumps Infiniti and their tech partner Nest. Nest is a venture capital company not to be confused with the people that make those learning thermostats. They have offices all over the world, seeking to turn large piles of cash into humongous piles of cash. Infiniti needs no introduction to your average gearhead. They’re the up-market brand of Nissan, that also dabbles in higher tech stuff in general from time to time.
So, the thumbnail version goes like this: “Get a tech investing and incubating firm (Nest) together with an automotive and tech firm (Infiniti) and get them to make a better personal transportation system. Sort of.”
The longer answer works like this. Put Infiniti and Nest together, let them put out a cattle call to people who think they have built a better mousetrap, sift through those ideas, then fund, build, and run with those ideas and beat your competitors in the market place. It’s called the “INFINITI LAB, Smart Mobility” and was set up, in the carmakers words, “to give founders the opportunity to achieve validation of their business over the course of eight weeks.”
Founders, in this case, means founders of tech start-ups in need of funding and exposure.
“This program could be transformational for early-stage companies who need commercial validation of their product,” said Lawrence Morgan, Nest CEO. “Start-ups need the opportunity to test their products and theories, and this program is highly focused on giving founders a clear path to POC so they can quickly gain traction and scale.”
Making The Pitch
INFINITI LAB, Smart Mobility will be taking applications until February 12th of this year, with everything finishing up by June 2017. They are moving fast with this, and are trying to give start-ups in mobility and connectivity, with high potentials for success, intensive training and mentoring. By the time this is all through, the winners get to pitch a viable business-use case to senior decision makers and key innovation backers from across the Renault-Nissan Alliance.
Or, in a nutshell, you get eight weeks to go from the idea stage to the ready for production stage, and hopefully, make heaps of money for Infiniti, Nest, and yourself.
“This program is a key part of Infiniti’s initiative to promote entrepreneurial spirit in the business community,” said Roland Krueger, President of Infiniti Motor Company.
Prime Real Estate
This also starts to show why Singapore is a pretty good choice for this venture.
It is, as navigators have known for centuries, centrally located. Especially if your looking for unique talent (think tech wizards from India, Japan, and China). It is also centrally located with respect to cheap manufacturing centers, like Taiwan, China et al. Also, Singapore has been on a tear to make everything in town connected to everything else in town, so you’d think there’s a lot of native talent to be had as well.
“Automobiles play an important role in future intelligent cities. Technologies of connectivity will enable vehicles to communicate with each other and with city infrastructures,” Krueger said. “This will significantly enhance the driving experience, and Infiniti is committed to leading the development in this area.”
Infiniti isn’t saying much else at this point, but they will announce what the outcome is in June.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He means well, even if he has a bias towards lighter, agile cars rather than big engine muscle cars or family sedans.
Photos, Video, & Source: INFINITI Motor Company Ltd.