When we think of autonomous vehicles, we usually think about fast, cheap personal transport. But Volkswagen wants the self-driving revolution to make shops and services just as mobile as it makes people, and has presented some mockups of how that might work at a retail and services trade show in Hannover.

VW calls these self-sufficient pop-up shops “Pods,” and envisages them silently arriving and setting themselves up wherever they’re needed. Based on a common electric driving and autonomy platform, they’re about bringing services to places of demand, and you can easily imagine them taking the place of the lunch trucks that visit work sites all over town. Not to mention, taking the jobs of the friendly lunch truck drivers, but we hardly need to labor that point.

Volkswagen has taken a group of Pod concepts to present at the Hannover Trade Fair. These wooden mockups are deliberately vague in their appearance – “exactly what these Pods will really look like later is of secondary importance at this point,” says VW. And that’s certainly true, they can look like whatever you want once the tech is ready.

Thus, the demo here is really about stimulating the imagination around this mobile retail service – so let’s take a look at what the company has come up with. Firstly, a mobile Health Care Pod that gives patients a two-way video call with a doctor in some other location, complete with a “diagnostic chair and monitor” and the ability to collect data from smartwatches and diabetes chips, and facilities for robotic blood tests. This one feels a long way off, but it could potentially save chronic illness sufferers a few trips to the doctor’s office for regular prescription checkups.

Secondly there’s a Retail Pod – in this case, one that laser-scans your body and presents a bunch of options for tailor-made clothing that’s made and delivered at a later date. Very much pie in the sky.

The two most convincing concepts are the Barista Bar Pod, a mobile automated cafe complete with Wi-Fi for customers, and the Energy Pod, which bowls up to concerts, festivals and other large public gatherings and offers mobile device charging.

It’s interesting to think about what other kinds of services might fit this kind of model, and which might end up taking advantage of self-drivers in other ways. A mobile car battery replacement service, for example, might sound like a good idea, rolling out to you with a selection of batteries charged up and ready to go. But it’s probably easier and cheaper to have a service that stores a bigger range in a big ol’ warehouse, and pops the right battery in a JohnnyCab to send it out to you.

Ice cream vans, on the other hand, would appear to be a good candidate for robotic transformation as customers are already trained to a degree to think of them as mobile services. What other businesses do you see as potential mobile autonomous services in the future? Let us know in the comments below.

Volkswagen’s Pod concepts envisage retail as a mobile service [New Atlas]

Joni Mitchell sang, “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.” But could parking lots soon become extinct, with the lost paradise making a return?

As cities get smarter and mobility solutions and consumer habits change, more urban planners are eschewing the construction of public parking garages — or changing how they conceive of them altogether.

With ride-sharing services gaining ground, a shifting demographic of people who no longer own cars, and the coming revolution of autonomous vehicles, transportation planners and city managers are rethinking parking despite the fact that more people are expected to move from rural to urban centers in the coming years.

According to a survey by commercial real estate firm CBRE, U.S. & Canadian Mobility 2018, the concept of commuting by car is about to undergo a paradigm shift. Indeed, in the U.S. people under 30 are more than seven-times more likely to take public transportation than those over 60 years of age. Furthermore, over the past three decades, the percentage of younger people who apply for a driver’s license has dropped nearly 20 percent, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Institute.

“The demographics are changing, with younger people not owning as many cars,” Brian Abbanat told Digital Trends. Abbanat is a senior transportation planner for the city of Davis in California, which is considered one of the most progressive cities in the U.S. when it comes to transportation; it was one of the first municipalities to create dedicated bicycle lanes back in 1967.

Still, it’s a challenge to predict what a city’s parking needs may be decades into the future.

“And technologies come and go. Fuel cells were going to be big, then there was the Segway, now it’s the e-bike sharing systems,” Abbanat said. So in the short term, Davis is looking to charge for street parking downtown, hoping to manage supply and demand. Abbanat said the city is looking at dynamic pricing (higher prices during peak hours) and pay-by-app solutions to mitigate “ticket anxiety.”

As for the long term, Davis is not planning on building any parking garages. Outside consultants agree that the coming trends argue against it, with the mayor of Davis, Brett Lee, recently pointing out that a municipal garage would cost roughly $15 million and the city would have to increase property taxes for five years to cover the cost.

Moreover, there are many benefits that result from choosing not to build parking lots.


“It’s not just about the car industry,” Esther Bahne, head of strategy and innovation at Mini, told Digital Trends. “It’s about the whole environment. Getting rid of parking lots, for example, can free up streets, allow for more parks and less pollution.” Bahne, who has worked in the auto industry for over 14 years, said the coming changes of electrification, ride sharing, and autonomous vehicles require creative ideas in cities in order to plan for the future.

In fact, even where people are still building parking lots, they are taking a whole new approach that the Abbanat calls “adaptive reuse” of parking facilities.

In Columbus, Ohio, which won the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $40 million Smart City Challenge two years ago, the local government has been studying and running various pilot projects to deliver solutions to city problems. Andrew Ginther, the mayor of Columbus, told Digital Trends that one of the major issues facing towns is affordable housing, especially as more people are predicted to move to cities.

“So now we ask, how can we build a parking garage so that it can be repurposed and reused in the future?” Ginther told Digital Trends when we asked him about the city’s smart city progress.

Even in places that are under constant expansion and lean heavily on a car culture, like Las Vegas, people are rethinking the approach to parking.


“We are now building parking garages with the ramps on the outside of the main structure, in anticipation of a future where we won’t need as much parking and can then re-purpose the garages as residential properties, just by tearing off the outer ramps,” Michael Lee Sherwood, the director of technology and information for Las Vegas, told us at the Smart Mobility conference in Tel Aviv last fall.

Such considerations also affect the design and construction of office and apartment buildings.

A Hudson Pacific Properties office complex going up on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, for example, will have a dedicated ride-share drop-off lobby and two floors of parking that can be converted into office space in the future. The location is expected to house Netflix’s new headquarters, but even in the car-centric West Coast metropolis, planners are considering changes in the transportation landscape.

Such design changes mean building garages with higher ceilings and eliminating the sloping floors of typical indoor garages. A 15-foot floor-to-floor plan, for example, is usually needed for a loft, shopping, or apartment space. And if garages are to be converted to habitable office or apartment space, there also has to be accommodation for additional plumbing and electrical work, something that’s usually not considered in the construction of poured concrete multi-level parking facilities.

Furthermore, commercial property owners look 30 years out and have to anticipate revenue streams decades into the future. If people aren’t driving to work on their own or primarily using shared autonomous vehicles, they may not need parking, in which case a garage wouldn’t be profitable. So being able to easily convert such spaces into office, retail, or rental properties is a critical consideration today.

“But it’s hard to foresee the changes that are going to happen,” Abbanat of the city of Davis said. Even though the city has had bike lanes for over 40 years, for example, it’s now wrestling with how to handle e-bikes and scooter sharing services because the city has an ordinance that bikes need to locked at a bike rack. However, there aren’t many bike racks around town now; should they install more? What about on suburban streets? What about charging stations?

Now imagine the legislative headaches when people start riding in shared autonomous electric vehicles everywhere.

Smart city planners are rethinking parking by getting rid of it [Digital Trends]

It was six years ago that we first heard about Makr Shakr, a robotic bar that can reportedly mix one Googol (the digit 1 followed by 100 zeroes) drink combinations. Now, its designers are planning on installing the tech in an autonomous vehicle that users can hail whenever they want a bevvy.

Created by Italian design firm Carlo Ratti Associati (in partnership with MIT, Coca-Cola and Bacardi Rum), the current version of Makr Shakr features two single-armed robots. Responding to customer orders placed via an app, those arms proceed to shake, stir, muddle, strain and pour more than 60 different ingredients – their bartending is said to be informed by the “best bartenders in the world” and their movements by the “best dancer in the world.”

In the just-announced Guido concept, the Makr Shakr system will be put in an open-sided self-driving vehicle, which users will be able to call to their location using an app. Once the “barmobile” arrives, that same app can be used to order a beverage from it. Customers’ ages will be checked via a scan of their ID, and they’ll be able to pay using their smartphones.

“Guido is the application of a city-on-demand paradigm,” says Emanuele Rossetti, CEO of the spin-off Makr Shakr company. “By matching Makr Shakr’s robotic bartenders with the mobility systems of the future researched by CRA [Carlo Ratti Associati], we can put forward a new idea for the experience of leisure.”

Plans call for the system to be developed throughout this year, in collaboration with international municipalities. And Guido, incidentally, is Italian for “I drive.”

Robotic bar could soon be hailed like a drink-making cab [New Atlas]

Without quality employees, your business won’t thrive. You need strong, capable workers. Many business owners find that it’s easy to keep an eye on the team when it’s small. You can be personally involved in every hiring decision.

When you start to grow, things become much more difficult. Suddenly, you can’t supervise everyone yourself. You have to start delegating. This is where employee training becomes important.

Maintain Consistency

If you have the right training procedures in place, your business can run like a well-oiled machine. The key is consistency. Employees trained by Mary should have the same experience as employees trained by Bill.

One way to achieve this is to have very strong programs in place. The internet can take a lot of the hassle off of your hands. Medical clinics, for instance, can take advantage of online HIPAA training. A standardized program can eliminate problems that might arise from having a growing team. 

Listen to Feedback

Your employees want to succeed. They want the business to do well. So when they tell you something, you should listen. A lot of your employees have a unique point of view that you don’t have access to. They might be able to spot a problem before you realize something is wrong.

You can set up an anonymous feedback system so people aren’t too scared to speak up. There’s a chance that you’ll hear something you don’t like. Don’t be afraid of this. Making changes could be the key to saving your business.

Follow the Results

In addition to employee feedback, there’s value in objective feedback as well. If you want to make sure that your training program is running efficiently, create an objective measure. You can keep track of your online reviews or utilize an employee suggestion box.

This method will only work if you’re willing to pay attention to the results. They might lead you in unexpected directions.

Embrace Change

Expect change to be constant. Unless you’re exceedingly lucky, you’ll probably have to fine tune your process at least once. There are many different aspects of employee life that you’ll need to have a training regimen for.

The larger your company becomes, the harder it will be to create the right training program. Even if you do settle on something that you like, you should remain open to changing it every few years or so.

As society changes, its demands on your business will alter. The most pressing example is the #MeToo movement. Businesses have been forced to rethink the definition of sexual harassment. Jokes that would have been fine 20 years ago are now heavily frowned upon.

Give Praise

Maybe it’s an employee of the month competition. Or maybe the worker with the highest sales numbers in any given period gets a special bonus. It doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to constantly praise your employees for good work.

People like recognition. If they’re devoting themselves to your business, they want you to notice. Identifying rock star employees is a good strategy. If no one ever stands out, it’s a strong sign that you’re not training them to reach their full potential.

Business owners sometimes feel as though they’re the only person who truly knows their business/industry/etc. This is attitude is harmless when you’re a sole proprietorship but it quickly becomes dangerous when you transform into a corporation.

Master Your Industry

Different industries have different demands. Training protocols can change constantly. If you don’t stay on top of industry standards, you could be hit with a slew of serious fines or even lose your business.

Medical and law professionals, for example, have to stay on top normal rules and regulations.

Even if your industry isn’t subject to any fluctuations, you should still keep an eye on what’s going on with modern training procedures. You might be able to increase your efficiency.

Training is rarely fun and often tedious. Yet it’s an absolutely necessary part of managing your employees. Companies that have strong training programs do well while those that do not flounder.

The good news is that it’s very easy to keep your training methods up to date. You simply have to be willing to pay attention to what’s going on. Employees will thank you if their duties are clear. No one likes having to deal with conflicting information. Your entire team should receive the same, consistent messaging. What’s expected with manager #1 should be exactly the same as what’s expected with manager #2.

World Housing Solution, based in Florida, specializes in rapidly deployable buildings. Recently, they have focused on providing fully-equipped mobile clinics that can be fabricated and installed very quickly in disaster zones. The clinics are conceived as serving patients who can’t reach a hospital or medical facility.

So far, the company has sent clinics to Houston when Hurricane Harvey struck and to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. As the clinics can be towed by a standard pickup truck, they can serve patients in difficult to access areas. The units are customizable, with specialized units including dental, pediatric, and OBGYN clinics. By daisy-chaining several units together, rescuers can create small but autonomous power, water, and communication grids.

The company also offers larger units that can be rapidly assembled onsite. A standard urgent care clinic contains four procedure rooms and an operating suite, and the units have the capacity for telemedicine, allowing clinicians onsite to access online resources.

The company has recently set up a new division called Mobile Response Units to focus on producing and delivering the clinics. These units could also be useful in providing routine healthcare for isolated and low-resource rural communities.

Conn Hastings, Medgadget: Please give us an overview of the types of structures World Housing Solution provides, and their applications.

Ron Ben-Zeev, World Housing Solution: We produce Rapidly Deployable Shelters (RDS). These prefabricated quick-deploy buildings use our proprietary panels and leveling foundation systems. We build buildings and when you think about it, every building can become homes, offices, clinics, schools, latrines, barracks, dorms and I could go on. However, our value is not in what our buildings become, but how we make our buildings. For eight years WHS has been designing and manufacturing structures that can be rapidly deployed and re-deployed as needed. Think of us as Ikea meets construction. Imagine the materials for a 5000 square foot building arriving on site and moving in the next day. In addition, our buildings have superior insulation over traditional construction and are far superior to container or tent solutions. Our shelters are resistant to mold, mildew, fire, pests, insects, and high winds. Then you cap that off with the fact that for every 25 watts of energy it takes to operate a one square foot of a tent you can operate an equivalent size WHS building for 5 watts per square foot. A 7 to 1 energy efficiency makes it easy to understand our value. Finally, our buildings can be taken down without leaving a foot print moved and set up somewhere else.

We also manufacture Mobile Response Unit (MRU). This brings a brand-new tool in the fight for quick disaster response or long-term prepositioning of assets that can be easily deployed. These are for the rapid response community. They provide almost 200 square feet of clean, air-conditioned space that can be towed with a pickup truck and brings their own utilities with them. They are the perfect solution for any austere environment like we’ve all seen left behind in the wake of a disaster. Water, power, communication, can all be part of our Elastic Grid™ allowing the Mobile Response Units to share resources. This means a response camp can easily increase or decrease capacity as you add or remove MRUs.

Ron Ben-Zeev: Our buildings have always had the ability to become clinics and when the latest challenges in deploying sustainable, off the grid, ADA compliant clinics that can be moved simply came along, we worked with a subject matter expert. He spent over 30 years developing, amongst other things, hundreds of Ambulatory Surgery Centers and published articles on emergency response. In 2014, we worked together to develop an Ebola Response camp using our buildings and a solution he was developing for the medical surge community. In January of this year he came to WHS with a significant challenge. FEMA and the Puerto Rican Department of health responded to a white paper he wrote and was requesting a solution that given the current technology in mobile medical response was not possible. The design build team of WHS brainstormed with Tony Cowan and what we produced was Clinics on Wheels. We made Tony an offer to come on board with us and he is now our Director of Emergency Response Technology.

The lessons learned from Clinics on wheels gave us a set of skills that produced our new divisions called Mobile Response Units (MRUs) which can cover a wider array of services beyond medical. Now Clinics on Wheels is strictly for medical clinics and MRUs are mobile communications centers, command centers, housing, latrines, or any other non-medical resource a response camp could need.

Medgadget: Where have the clinics been deployed so far? How did the operations go?

Ron Ben-Zeev: WHS Clinics have deployed to Texas during Harvey, running off the grid on batteries and solar, then back to Florida for Maria and Irma and of course the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. Most recently we are working with the resiliency efforts in the Carolinas supporting non-profit groups in delivering supplies. WHS maintains an inventory of available buildings and MRUs that can be requested by FEMA or municipalities as needed. For Puerto Rico, our fellow Americans on the Island of Vieques received three Clinics. One included an OB-GYN room with pediatric care. The second was a general exam room with mobile x-ray and telemedicine. The third was a dentist office with two dental surgery chairs. They all can run off their own solar and battery power and are ADA compliant. They were delivered over “OFF ROAD” conditions with a simple pickup truck. The level of gratitude the people showed was indescribable. We are currently working to find funding solutions for the mountainous regions of Puerto Rico as we have received many requests for more Clinics on Wheels. We are constantly looking for ways to improve the next set of clinics and already produced a version 1.5 of the clinical platform. That MRU will be going on tour stopping in Quantico and DC over the next month. Finally, we are developing version 2.0 that will be even lighter and stronger allowing us to put in more power, water and communications and get those resources to even harder to reach places.

Medgadget: What was the biggest challenge in designing the units? Was it difficult to balance their small size and need for rapid fabrication with the need to include a variety of bulky medical equipment and supplies?

Ron Ben-Zeev: Some of the hurdles we had to overcome were significant. The medical response industry is full of RVs, buses, re-built containers and tractor trailers. Not one of these options could have been deployed to the area of need in Puerto Rico in the time required. People think about mobile and do not realize most mobile response requires a significant amount of logistical support. That is a big deal when you think about the fact that in emergency response one of the first breakdowns is logistics. MRUs can go off road and be pulled by a pickup because they are rugged and light. We had to keep the weight under 10,000 pounds so pickups driven by a volunteer could deliver our assets. We were able to do that because our team has a dynamic set of skills; Paul Cairney our VP of Operations worked for one of the leading trailer manufacturers in the world and that insight was key to creating a light ADA compliant platform. The integration of equipment is really about utilities and weight management. Composite materials and smart space design are the secret sauce that make the MRU possible.

Medgadget: Please elaborate on the telemedicine aspect of the units. How does this expand the options available to clinicians?

Ron Ben-Zeev: There is no doubt that Mobile medicine is now a growing industry both in the US and abroad. It reduces the burden placed on our over taxed emergency rooms and provides care in underserved communities. Healthcare deserts exist in the US as well. With Telemedicine and our MRUs or Clinics on Wheels, you have the ability to bring specialists into our mobile response units as needed. With Telemedicine it really does not matter how far an individual needing care is from the hospital, they can look into the eyes of a doctor like they are in an emergency room, and that doctor can see the patient and share diagnostic information like they are there in the MRU. For instance, Florida Hospital through the Nicholson Center, was invaluable in providing the knowledge and expertise to make telemedicine possible for the clinics in Puerto Rico. They not only provided the equipment but are currently funding the satellite link that connects the CDT on the island of Vieques to the Centro Medico Hospital in the city of San Juan.

Medgadget: The units also have potential for routine healthcare in underserved and isolated communities. Are there any plans to apply the units in this context?

Ron Ben-Zeev: Ten years ago, the idea of a Doctor making a house call ever again was unimaginable, but telemedicine makes all the benefits of a house call possible virtually. The MRU is designed to make it easy for this technology to get out to the people who can benefit the most from it. As hospitals implement telemedicine overtime, there will be a dramatic increase in health care availability and decreases in cost. To help hospitals and the Health Department make this happen we have created a lease program for the MRU and Telemedicine. This will dramatically reduce the upfront cost to acquire this life changing technology, stretching the cost out over a longer period, allowing the MRU to generate the revenue to pay for itself.

Mobile Clinics for Disaster Zones and Low Resource Communities: Interview with CEO of World Housing Solution [Medgadget]