Podcast: It’s not smart cities, it’s connected citizens

Podcast: It’s not smart cities, it’s connected citizens

by Sarit Yaakobovitz - Developer Program Manager

We’re back with episode 2 of the Live Data Podcast and this time it is an interview with Martin McMullan from the New Zealand Transport Agency. We talked about his role, the current state of New Zealand transportation and how Satori’s platform helps transform a smart city into connected citizens. Plus, we threw in a few quick response questions to see if we could stump him (and we did).

Enjoy the podcast and remember to rate & review us on iTunes. Let’s get to the show!

To learn more about smart cities and Satori click here.

Full transcript:

Martin: Everyone goes down the Smart Cities route. So actually,ok, you go down Smart Cities, now what are you going to do with it? What's the outcome that you're trying to achieve? It's actually about current and connected citizen, connected into each other, connected into information, connected into the city. It's about the community.

Sarit: Welcome to the Live Data Thought podcast by Satori, where live data thought leaders, developers and entrepreneurs share their insights on the latest trends and technologies. I'm Sarit Yaakobovitz.

Randy: [00:00:30] And I'm Randy Ksar.

Sarit: Let's get to the show.

Randy: Welcome everyone to the Live Data podcast. I'm your co-host Randy, and I'm joined by my co-host.

Sarit: Sarit.

Randy: Sarit, so welcome. Today we have a great show, and we're excited to welcome Martin. Martin, welcome to the podcast.

Martin: Hi Randy, hi Sarit. Thanks for having me.

Randy: You're welcome, we're super excited to have you here. Martin, tell us who you are and what do you do?

Martin: [00:01:00] I'm Martin McMullan. I just try and do interesting stuff, really. What I do at the moment ...

Randy: Interesting stuff, huh? That’s cool

Martin: Life's short, you've gotta enjoy it. Currently I'm the director of Connect the Journeys for a government agency in New Zealand called the transport agency. What Connected Journeys really means is the pending digitization of the transport system. My job's to come in and look at that, put a bit of a strategy in place and actually start to drive change [00:01:30] around the transport system, which is no easy task.

Randy: Yeah, and no pressure there. You've been in New Zealand for a while, is that where you grew up?

Martin: No, I grew up in Wales in the UK. Came over to New Zealand in 2010, traveled from there, it's been a base really for the last seven years or so. There's great places to live.

Randy: Cool. How did you get where you are now in terms of the technology [00:02:00] that you're working on? How did you learn it, was there a previous job that you were at that you learned stuff from, or was this learn on your own?

Martin: It's quite funny, actually.

Randy: We love humor.

Martin: It's great to have MBAs and degrees and things, but actually most of the knowledge that I use today is knowledge that I picked up in my teenage years playing around with computers, messing around with Objective C [ 00:02:26], C++, messing around with code, really, [00:02:30] and just know what goes where and what you can do.

Randy: Wait, so Objective [inaudible 00:02:33] C was your first program language?

Martin: [inaudible 00:02:34], yeah, well Visual Basic.

Sarit: I also heard that you have military background, does it help?

Martin: Having a military background helps, absolutely. Helped me focus. I was just a misbehaving kid, really, when I was young. Playing around with computers, breaking brother's computers, fixing family and friends' computers. My dad's engineering business had a single computer, it was a big computer, 386, [00:03:00] 33 Hertz or something. Horrible big beast of a computer, but my job was to fix it when it used to not work very well.

Randy: Yeah, my dad used to work at Hewlett Packard, and so he would bring home all the gear. We even had touch screen, I think it was back in the mid-80s. We used to do basic programming and stuff like that.

Sarit: My father was a mechanic, so I didn’t know how to operate a computer, but I know how to fix some stuff in the car.

Randy: I do not know how to do that.

Sarit: So speaking of [00:03:30] cars, tell us about the state of transportation today in New Zealand.

Martin: I'd say it's pretty on par with the rest of the world, really. We're all just figuring out what it's going to be now. There's no doubt, even the biggest naysayer would say that change is coming and it's going to come very quickly. Everything's really run in silos. We've got a public transport system, we've got quite low vehicle occupancy, 1.4 people per vehicle on average, which isn't great, but it's pretty [00:04:00] on par with the rest of the world. High percentage of car ownership in New Zealand, I think it's nearly two cars per family, if not more than two cars per family. What you'd call disruptive, I don't really see it as disruptive, but disruptive new services coming to the market like Uber, ride share companies, other modes of shared mobility coming in have now been around long enough that they're a credible mode of transport in their own right, rather than just a novelty as many people saw them a few years [00:04:30] ago.

Randy: Right, hit mainstream consumer.

Martin: The questions around Uber, Lyft, whether they've got long-term sustainable business models, doesn't matter anymore. Ride share's here to stay. That's for sure.

Randy: Yeah, definitely, it is. In terms of what you're seeing within New Zealand, so you've been there since 2010. What were you, from the project that you've been working on in using Satori [ 00:04:59], what was [00:05:00] some of the problems that you were trying to solve? What were consumers needing, and how could you fit within that to help them out?

Martin: The problem that we were trying to solve is quite a simple one, really. People felt like they must have a car to get around, so what we've done with Satori is really we're building a platform, what we're calling the Mobility Marketplace. We've got one application set up at the moment, which is a program called Choice [00:05:30] which launches on the 24th of August. You know, the guys from Satori have really been embedded with our local development team to build that product, which has been phenomenal. Really what that gives our customers is choice, how they move around. It's got all the real-time live data for the buses, the water taxis, the ski shuttles, all the main taxi operators, carpool [ 00:05:54] providers, rideshare providers, all in one single application. Also the [00:06:00] availability to actually pay for it all in one place, even if you're using different legs, so the first part of your journey might be the bus, then you may get into a rideshare service, but you'll pay for it all at once.

Randy: That's like reality now, right? I mean, people [crosstalk 00:06:14]

Martin: That's what they want.

Randy: Go from point A to B, they're hopping from place to place, right?

Martin: Yeah, and transportation really is not different to going to a shop. If you went down to your Walgreen's and pay for your Colgate toothpaste and then pay for a can of Coke separately, it'd be a bit, what's going on? Transport needs to be the same. It [00:06:30] just needs to be integrated. They're just products that are consumed from a marketplace. They're very important products and they need to be made sure that they're operated safely, but customers just want to consume them as they consume normal day-to-day commodities.

Sarit: That's interesting, because the problem that you’re trying to solve is too many cars and trying to make people use public transportation. And the way you solve it is just making connected journeys, make it easier for people to move from one leg to another.

Martin: Yeah, that's right. If you look at [00:07:00] the real value around rideshare, it's the experience. It was very easy, you walk away and it's paid for. You can see roughly where it is.

Randy: That still trips me out when I get out of the car and I don't need to give cash or swipe a credit card.

Martin: That's the best thing, the price. The price , you could probably [ 00:07:21] charge much, much more, and still people would still use it. It's the experience. We've got to try and take that experience and replicate it across all modes of transport [00:07:30] so it becomes the standard, because that's what our customers expect right now. We've got a long way to go in terms of public transport. Even paying for your car, I know you pay a lot of taxes at the fuel pump or through your license plates. That needs to be done on a user-pays approach as well, so you're paying for the privilege of driving. If you're driving your car, it should be the same experience as it would be paying for a ride share or a public transport experience, integrated.

Randy: In general, for [00:08:00] people who haven't been to New Zealand, transportation compared to the United States ... For me, when I think of transportation, I think of Europe because that's where I grew up part of my life. From you living around the world, how do you see New Zealand transportation now and towards the future?

Martin: Where we're at now the main difference is, depends where you go, really. If you go to rural New Zealand, you want to watch for the sheep running around on the roads. In [00:08:30] more of the major urban areas, similar to I would say your category B or category C cities in the US. Very much road-based transport, but now you're seeing it become multi-modal, active transport. Cycling and walking are going through a bit of a current renaissance at the moment. In New Zealand, we've seen a big interest in electric bikes, electric bicycles, conventional cycling. We've just invested a lot of money in new cycleways. [00:09:00] Modernization of the rail in Auckland, so we have a metrorail system in Auckland, heavy rail, which is well used. Yeah, the scale is much smaller compared to San Francisco, the commute times are nowhere near what you do in San Francisco, and the capacity that we do have on the highways is vastly more than what you have in San Francisco Bay area as well. [00:09:30] It's the same stuff, you're trying to move things from point A to point B. I just try and look at it as a network, really, just like any network, whether it be computer network, using packet, you're moving packets from one place to another. I've got to try and do it most effectively and quickly and safely as possible. That's the one [ 00:09:47] transport system.

Randy: All right.

Sarit: You know, I wonder why using Satori, what Satori solves here in the equation?

Martin: Satori is for me ...

Randy: Without sounding like a sales pitch.

Martin: Without sounding like a sales pitch.

Randy: [00:10:00] We know we prepped that one, Bill could probably tell, but really, from your perspective, from what you're seeing in terms of solutions out there, in terms of what you're trying to solve, why was Satori helpful in this situation?

Martin: Just the ease of use. Great pull, very, the high throughput, low latency is the real golden bullet for me, is [00:10:30] I know I can start using Satori today for the mobility marketplace. I know there's the built-in scales there for us to actually look at it for other things, like dynamic pricing of the transport system, which to do that you'd need to know where vehicles are live. Also around how you build fit for purpose civil infrastructure in the future, things like traffic lights, intersections, prioritization. At a really binary level, it's just messaging. [00:11:00] Instead of a green light is go and a red light is stop, we can diversify our messages by broadcasting those messages to vehicles, where they're connected vehicles, connected autonomous vehicles, or autonomous vehicles, it gives us the ability to do that in the future. Really what we want to be able to do is start to build partnerships today that help us deliver mobility marketplace, which is the shop that everything gets purchased from. We can change the prices and provide the back of house, either the infrastructure [00:11:30] that allows us to dynamically change the transport system as we see fit. In a word, future-proof.

Randy: Future-proof, I like that. In terms of, we talked about Satori and what you're trying to use it for. From your perspective, the success of this program, of this launch, is it more on the consumer end in [00:12:00] terms of user adoption and in terms of their success. I assume that's what the success eventually is, right? I'm sure there's some metrics and data points that you're looking at, except for uptime and stuff like that. Tell us a little bit of what you're thinking about. What's your vision of success?

Martin: Well, the vision of success for me is that we don't have to build apps. We've built an app now, really what I want to do is take all of our country's transportation data and share it with the development community so they can pick it up and built it far greater [00:12:30] and far quicker and have a community of people innovating on those apps. That's what success looks like to me, not having a developed team within a government agency trying to do it.

Randy: Yeah, one second.

Sarit: Martin, I'm curious to know, and actually asked that before, before we went on air. Are there cities in the world that you look at and you say, this is the model, or this is the kind of model we want to have in [00:13:00] New Zealand, or are you the first to do that?

Martin: Yeah, I'd say there was. Maybe I'm being arrogant, but I'd say how our thinking probably evolved beyond where we looked at as benchmarks before. That's fine, it's only thinking, right? You've still got to bring it to reality, so that's where the difficult work comes in. Yeah, London, London's a good city. [00:13:30] Actually, Portland are doing some great things around mobility as well, so that's a really interesting one to see. If you're in the Portland area, definitely go and check out what Portland are doing around mobility. Dubai, Dubai are doing a lot of thinking. What you find in the moment, there's lots of changes coming, and each city has taken certain areas. Dubai is really looking at how a 2D transport system would become a 3D transport system and the introduction of drone corridors, flying [00:14:00] drones, on-demand automated transport, but in the air. That's really what Dubai is known for, so that's where I look for for that. Mobility, Portland and London, also Finland, Reykjavik and Finland are doing some work with mass global. Yeah, it's early days, but yeah, they're the places that I would look to.

Sarit: What do you think are the biggest challenges? Is it orchestrating [00:14:30] the infrastructure, have sensors everywhere, is it the buy-in of the partners?

Martin: It's definitely not infrastructure and it's definitely not technology, it's people.

Sarit: People.

Martin: Yeah, getting people to play nice, getting people to share information with one another. Empathy between lots of different organizations with various different drivers, bureaucracy. Yeah, that's where it all fails, really. You've got to really start to build those relationships early on, and not going into anything with an agenda. [00:15:00] You go in there and say, how can we just make this better and co-create something in partnership. What I find a lot of the time is people always try and run with their own agenda before you even get people together. It's very important to have a blank piece of paper and say hey guys, how can we make this better and do it with them, not to them. I think that's how you start to build smart, connected citizens, really. Smart cities is all about the infrastructure.

Randy: Have you see times where it's more of a grassroots, the consumers [00:15:30] are like, man, I need this? Is that sometimes a motivation for groups that you work with?

Martin: Yeah. Cycling, urban cycling program which is essentially a grassroots program, which is the cyclist community saying we want proper cycleways that fit this infrastructure. Government listened, and they went away and invested a lot in cycleways up in Auckland [00:16:00] and around the country, actually, and it's now starting to reap dividends from a social wellness point of view, but also from a transport system point of view.

Randy: Yeah, awesome.

Martin: It's a difficult one, especially around mobility, because a lot of the feeds are commercial feeds. You can make the bus information available, and cities have been doing that for a long time, where they make their feeds available and people go and create more deeper features around buses, but it all comes down to contractual arrangements. The start-ups, the development [00:16:30] community, they can't really get through those. They deal with really big organizations.

Randy: That have been around forever, gotcha. One of the things that we've been thinking about in how this is related to the sharing economy and how that has seen a resurgence of course in the US and around the world, how does that affect [00:17:00] transportation?

Martin: Oh, massively. I think I probably have just bought my last car. I'll never buy another car again, and that's great.

Sarit: You really think you won't buy another car?

Martin: I won't buy another car. You might lease one, or subscribe.

Sarit: You'll still own a car, you'll still own.

Martin: Subscribe to a car service, actually. I won't lease one, I will subscribe. Risk will drive that, especially as level four autonomy starts to come to the commercial environment, because the liability [00:17:30] lightly transferred to the manufacturer, and they'll want to be able to control that product. If you don't take it for a service or don't upgrade the software when you need to, they'll just lock you out of your car. They can do that when you lease it, but when you own the car, it's a great way to annoy your customers, right? You'll see commercial models change, and you'll also see people offering and purchasing, buying a second holiday home in the Hamptons or in Auckland or Queenstown, depending on where you want it, you may invest [00:18:00] in a fleet of autonomous vehicles to go and drive around the city, but you need a marketplace to put that into. That's where we think mobility of service will give us, which is all about live data.

Sarit: If you look to the future, whenever I think about the future, I remember the Back to the Future movies. I'm still looking to have a flying Delorean at some point.

Randy: It's coming, it's coming.

Sarit: If you had to, your greatest, most craziest vision. [00:18:30] You mentioned 3D transportation in Dubai. How would it be like?

Martin: How far are we looking?

Sarit: Oh, I don't know. 10 years.

Martin: 10 years, honestly I think 10 years from now you're going to have flying electric drones or vertical takeoff or landing-based vehicles, with ranges of about 300 or 400 kilometers, flying 300 kilometers an hour, can carry two people. You'll be able to hail them on demand to [00:19:00] designated areas. If you would've asked me five years ago around things like multi-story car parks and then one of the mayors of the city asking me, are we going to need to build more multi-story car parks, I'd say, no, no, you don't need to bother anymore. Well actually, if you look at them now, these multi-story car parks are going to be re-engineered and re-classified as areas where you'll land these little aircrafts on the top of them. Underneath there, they'll be your connected services, [00:19:30] whether that be rideshare or taxis or autonomous vehicles for example, waiting to pick you up and shuttle you to your final destination.

That's what the transport system looks like for me, in my head today, actually, not 10 years away. That's where you get frustrated, right, you're trying to bring it to life. Yeah, it's multi-modal, people won't need to own the vehicle. It's a very big expenditure, and if you look at how the market particularly operates, even 10 years ago, five years ago, [00:20:00] you go out and buy a vehicle, big investment. As soon as you drive out of the forecourt it'll depreciate, and it'll just get worse and worse and worse and worse and worse until you've sold it, even today, right? You can go and buy a car, or you don't even have to buy it, you can go and lease a car. It consistently gets better and better with all of our software updates. You can do things today that it couldn't do when you bought it. Things that five years ago are laughable, you would never think about that.

Randy: No, it's definitely a software driven world.

Martin: Even [00:20:30] things like Turo, where you can go on and put your car on there and people take your car away and hire it for a weekend, I do that with one of my cars back in New Zealand. It actually generates revenue for me now. An asset that used to just sit there and depreciate has actually now flipped around 180 and actually ended up making me money.

Randy: That's crazy.

Martin: It just shows you that people talking about these things happening, but it's already happened.

Randy: What is that service? I haven't heard of that service before.

Martin: Turo, so thanks Turo, that's a great advert for you.

Sarit: I don't think [00:21:00] it exists here.

Martin: It does exist here, that's how I found it. When I used to first start coming over to Palo Alto, I used to hire cars. I thought once I'm going to hire a Tesla, so I found this thing Turo and I hired a Tesla through it, but now I use it all the time.

Randy: Sweet. I grew up in Switzerland for a bit, so when we moved over there, we had our 1976 Volvo station wagon sitting in a storage unit for five years.

Martin: [00:21:30] Wow. It could've made some money.

Randy: I could've made some money back in the days.

Martin: One of the great things about, one of the things we've got to be very conscious of as a development community is about social access. On Turo, you can go and hire a car for $12 a day, which makes it accessible for people who don't have lots of money to go away and do things.

Sarit: Like Airbnb for cars, that's easy.

Martin: Yeah, if you want a banged out little car, you go on Turo and you pick one for, the lowest I've seen is $8. [00:22:00] It's great, it's great to know that people can get access to mobility, because it's not a very nice world to live in when you don't have the freedom of moving around. We all like to move around, so we've gotta make sure it's socially just ...[ 00:22:12]. We've got as we digitize a transport system.

Randy: We talked about your background early on, well we didn't go all the way back to what you were studying in school. You say civil engineering, is that right?

Martin: On day release from my family business. I didn't do the real [00:22:30] school experience, I got to go to university one or two days a week, sit in the classes and then I'd be back out on the construction site in the family business, which was good, but I missed all the fun bits. Yeah, but I did study civil engineering, and yeah, if you like soils, it's the thing for you.

Randy: I mean, the reason I ask is, I have two sons, three and five, and they're trying to figure out what they want to be. Right now it's firemen and [00:23:00] sheriffs. What you're doing, do new things need to be taught, say at the university level? Are there new topics that need to be taught? What are your thoughts around the state of education in relation to smart cities?

Martin: Oh, I mean, yeah, it does need to change. We see that through a lot of the [00:23:30] graduate schemes where people, regardless of what university they're coming from, they don't really have the skills we need them to have. They have to learn it on the job and really, yeah, they go for someone who's really strong in infrastructure, you go for someone from a computer sciences background. For me, if I was to do it all over again, I probably wouldn't go to school. I'd just get out there and do it. It's my best learning from my life is you just code the language, you can learn it at home. The best place for me [00:24:00] to learn it is by applying it in the real world. Once I started doing that, I became far more competent and started to do things and deliver things.

Having said that, I think engineering, any type of engineering, whether it's civil, structural, computer engineering just helps you figure out problems and helps your approach to actually understand what the root causes are. It helps you engineer your options to work your way out of them. I think that's a great skill to have, [00:24:30] and that's why you see so many engineers moving to other industries, like finances, stock markets, and other things, because that is the core skill, really. It's not about the soils and the geotechnical and the structural stuff that you spend far too long reading in books and sitting in classrooms studying. It's actually about that problem solving thing for me. Yeah, they should just do problem solving skills.

Sarit: That's good.

Randy: Yeah, that's great advice. Before we get on to our fast response questions, quick response, [00:25:00] however you want to call it, to leave a note of what people that are wanting to build a smart city, say there's someone in the government, someone on the consultant side that has this project. What is one of the first steps that they should do? We talked a little bit about building the relationships is very important, but what are your thoughts on the first steps that they should go about doing to [00:25:30] start this project?

Martin: Talk to New Zealand. No, yeah, but seriously, talk to New Zealand. Really, just don't go down a rabbit hole and think you can create the solution all on your own and spend a lot of time actually developing, actually go and test your thinking with people first. Go and meet with people in transport, people across cities and governments, actually just have a conversation with them, validate your thinking before you go down the [00:26:00] road map, the rabbit hole of development, because I must admit, it gets a little bit depressing at times when you go and sit in to some pitches that we get, and we get pitched to all the time. It's the solutions to problems that don't exist half the time. Go out there and actually understand the problems that your cities, your transportation agencies and authorities are actually trying to solve, and then with them too, actually pitch some prototypes.

An ideal environment is where you can actually co-create with them. That means bringing people on who probably don't have the same level [00:26:30] of skills that you do, but they have a different way of thinking. They're very much infrastructure thinking, and they will balance your development community thinking out as well. Takes everybody on the journey. What government agencies are really looking for is they don't handle unknowns very well. We don't know what this looks like, just have a best guess, at least give them an idea, even if you know it's probably not going to be 100 percent right.

Randy: Yeah.

Martin: Yeah, [00:27:00] they're not really wired to think about unknowns. It just freaks people out and they need to know, that's one of the big things I would really think about is just really think your idea through, do it with them, and have a best guess. When they ask you a question, don't say I don't now. We don't really know, but we think it could look like this or could look like that. Put some options on the table. Just saying, let us try it, but we don't know, they'll just run for the hills. They're accountable to the taxpayer, and they [00:27:30] need to know what's going on.

Randy: Yeah. All right. Sarit, you want to start off with the fast questions?

Sarit: Yes, so, are you ready?

Martin: Yeah.

Sarit: Good. Okay, what was your first job?

Martin: Putting bolts together for my dad's construction company.

Sarit: How old were you then?

Martin: About 12.

Sarit: What is your favorite mode of transportation?

Martin: Gotta be flight, right? You can't be jumping into little [crosstalk 00:27:56]

Randy: Sorry, are we talking about a Cessna?

Martin: Yeah, anything [00:28:00] that's in the air, I'm a keen aviator.

Randy: Sweet. This last one is mine.

Sarit: Yeah, exactly. You ask it, I don't even know how to pronounce it.

Randy: 90's grunge rock or 70's classic rock?

Martin: Could you give us an example?

Randy: Grunge rock could be Nirvana, could be Soundgarden, little later in the grunge rock scene. 70's classic rock could be Simon [00:28:30] and Garfunkel.

Sarit: How did you, he was alive back then?

Martin: Yeah, definitely wasn't alive probably in the 70's.

Randy: Still, just trying to get a sense of your musical taste.

Martin: I don't know, you'll have to sing a song for me.

Randy: You want me to sing a song. I do have a microphone right now. I'll tell some tales.

Martin: Save us all the pain, save us all the pain.

Randy: Good idea.

Martin: You don't want to hear me sing. I would say 90's grunge rock, actually, I don't know. Soundgarden I don't know.

Sarit: What's your favorite band, I'll change the question.

Martin: My favorite band, Foo Fighters are [00:29:00] good. They're good, I don't really have a favorite band. I have lots of music, depends what mood you're in, right? You need a good set of headphones, good computer, get some coding going on and get some upbeat motivational music going.

Randy: That works for me.

Martin: Build a new world.

Randy: That's right, build a new world. All right, well cool. Thank you for the time, I really appreciate it.

Sarit: Thank you very much, Martin.

Randy: Flying over here.

Sarit: It was great having you here.

Randy: We will look forward to all the awesome things [00:29:30] in terms of transportation, in terms of smart cities in New Zealand, so thanks again. Appreciate it.

Martin: Just on the smart cities piece, before I go, final note, word of wisdom. You know, everyone goes down the smart cities route. Okay, you go smart cities, now what are you going to do with it? What's the outcome you're trying to achieve, it's actually about the connected citizen, connected into each other, connected into information, and connected into the city. It's about the community. The problem is, smart cities things to me, just sound like a big brother surveillance [00:30:00] thing. Which is definitely not what is should be, it's about providing a better service to the citizens, ie. the customers of the city. I'm always a little bit heapish around the word smart cities.

Randy: Yeah, no, I think it definitely needs to be sole focus when things get kind of crazy and out of scope, you need to go back and think alright, is this for the right purpose?

Martin: Yeah, but no, it's been great. It's been awesome, thanks.

Randy: Awesome, well thanks again, and we'll talk to you soon. [00:30:30] For those of you who are listening to this for the first time, definitely check out the Live Data podcast on iTunes and rate us, and if you want more information about Satori and want to learn more about what's happening in New Zealand, go to Satori.com. Any closing remarks, Sarit?

Sarit: It's been a pleasure having you here. As for the podcast, if you have any ideas or you want to be interviewed, reach [00:31:00] out to us via our website. Okay.

Randy: Alright, cool. Thanks, and we'll talk to you guys soon.