The Silicon Way of Life.

How the smart lab pilots new mobility services.

Haßloch vs Silicon Valley.

Very few people have heard of Haßloch, a small town in Germany with about 20,000 inhabitants. Haßloch is where decisions are made about products German consumers will be able to buy in the future. The consumer research organization GfK places products on the shelves of local retail outlets before they are introduced to the rest of Germany. These pilot products are even promoted in local print and TV advertising. Then GfK analyzes consumer purchasing behavior to determine, for example, whether a new chocolate bar will be a big hit or a flop. Test market research conducted by GfK matches subsequent sales data with an accuracy of 90%.

But Haßloch is not the ideal place to test new services designed to meet the mobility demands of tomorrow. Although the town reflects the German average in terms of age and social classes, it's not where early adopters and technology fans tend to live. If you want feedback from these target groups on new product developments, you'll have to go a little farther away – to Silicon Valley. It's the birthplace of Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and home to a number of major tech companies. This is where innovations that change the world are born. So what better place for smart lab USA to test innovative mobility services?

Disruption on the Test Bench.

Originally, smart lab was established in Germany to accelerate the development and implementation of innovative urban mobility solutions.  This Daimler think tank develops and tests connected car services aimed at making city life easier, leveraging the same technology used to open car2go carsharing vehicles. These services are marketed under the umbrella label “ready to …”. “smart ready to drop,” and “smart ready to share” have already attracted media attention in Germany and other innovative services are ready to be launched. But before a new service can start, it needs to be carefully tested. Does it have the potential to change the world? This is where smart lab USA plays a key role, especially for the US market.

Ready to Live.

In 2016, smart lab USA was launched in Sunnyvale as part of the Business Innovation team of Mercedes-Benz Research & Development North America (MBRDNA). The young team works closely with local start-ups specializing in on-demand, concierge services. The Bay Area is the birthplace of the on-demand economy and smart lab USA sits in the middle of it all.

The on-demand economy is rapidly expanding across the global economy. According to Crowd Companies, a firm that tracks on-demand platform businesses, more than 280 companies provide on-demand goods and services across 16 industries today. They are attracting more than 22.4 million consumers annually and $57.6 billion in spending. And Transportation is the second largest sector.

At the smart lab USA five on-demand services are currently being piloted in the San Francisco area, all of which can be booked and managed via the ready to app. Users select a service via smartphone, specify a time window, and choose a location. All it takes is a few taps and they're ready to order services when they need it.

All of the services are enabled through partnerships with local service providers that deliver goods and services directly to the smart car. This includes a mobile refueling service where a truck delivers fuel to the customer’s home or office, and a waterless on-site carwash service. In addition, customers can easily arrange a service appointment and use smart lab’s maintenance valet service to deliver their smart to a specified destination after service is complete. If you want to have your shopping bags or clean laundry delivered to your door, the ready to app is a perfect solution. Given that smart will only sell electric drives in the US going forward, smart lab USA will continue to test and develop services tailored specifically to EV owners. The experience gained from smart lab USA will help support sales of Mercedes-Benz electric vehicles in the US market in the future.

Tomorrow Starts Today.

There are a few similarities to the consumer research completed in Haßloch, but the smart lab USA pilot is designed to meet the demands of tech enthusiasts. Silicon Valley is a place where early adopters are exposed to cutting edge technologies every day. They have high expectations for new products and services.  The team uses Human-Centered Design to develop and test all of the services in the ‘ready to…’ portfolio. “The customer is at the core of nearly every decision we make” says Jen Gaze, manager of smart lab USA, “We test out new ideas, get feedback and iterate until we see evidence that our customers are delighted.” In a 2016 interview, smart Automobile CEO Annette Winkler announced plans to offer consumers a unique form of inner-city mobility. smart lab USA is making an important contribution to accomplishing this mission.

Authors: David Menzel and Jean-Paul Olivier