Accelerating the Smart City initiative’s focus on enabling autonomous vehicles, the Kansas City area is now serving as the laboratory for a large test of thousands of connected rental cars.
Avis Budget Group and the City of Kansas City, Missouri, announced Thursday the launch of the “Mobility Lab,” featuring a fleet of 5,000 internet-connected vehicles at more than 20 Avis car rental locations, including Kansas City International Airport. The lab will also extend to Nebraska’s Eppley Airfield and Lincoln Airport.
Through the partnership, Avis will be able to cut operational costs and better serve customers with new internet-enabled features. The Kansas City area will benefit from troves of new data that city officials and private Smart City partners can access and analyze, said Bob Bennett, chief innovation officer for Kansas City.
The partnership will ultimately advance the city’s plan to accommodate autonomous vehicles by laying the foundation of data collection and management, Bennett said.
“What this means is that we’ve taken the next large step for the transition between cars as we know them today and cars as they will exist in the 21st-century,” he said. “Like smart cities, autonomous vehicles are dependent on data management. We have an amazing opportunity now to better understand that than any other community and to lead the way. We’re a frontier city, doing frontier things again. We’re very excited at the opportunity to do this.”
By playing host to the Mobility Lab, Kansas City is making the iterative step to prepare its infrastructure for the day when autonomous vehicle technology comes to life, Bennett said.
“I think we’ll be the first city on the planet to use them at scale because we’ll know what the infrastructure underneath it needs to look like,” he added. “It’s the first of its kind on the planet. Avis has been wanting to do this for a number of years and they chose us because of the success of our Smart City program. This is where they want to validate its use.”
The lab should benefit Avis’ operations by providing real-time inventory counts, mileage management and automated maintenance notification. The data will optimize fleet management capabilities and provide scalable benefits as Avis its fleet of connected cars, the company said.
In May, Avis announced it would connect more than 50,000 cars in its nationwide fleet by early 2018, bringing the total number of connected cars to more than 100,000. It hopes to have a fully connected global fleet by 2020.
“Our Mobility Lab in the greater Kansas City area extends our next-generation mobility initiatives,” said Avis CEO Larry De Shon. “The steps we’re taking with connected car and smart technologies will increase customer satisfaction as well as reduce operational costs in the near term, while also preparing us to meet the evolving needs of consumers, entrepreneurs, corporations and governments.”
The Mobility Lab also aims to enhance Avis customers’ experiences while renting a vehicle, the company said. Via the Avis app, it will allow customers to control their rental from an app, including making, changing or managing their reservation, extending their rental and locking and unlocking car doors.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James praised the partnership between the City of Fountains and Avis.
“Kansas City has a fully integrated suite of Smart City initiatives in our community that make it a better place for our citizens and visitors,” he said in a release. “Partnering with Avis Budget Group allows us to make that experience even more efficient and responsive to the needs of 21st Century Kansas Citians and our visitors.”