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Rob Bernard Video: "The Road Ahead"

By: Rob Bernard, Don Foley, Ron Sims, Bruce Chapman
TVW, Cascadia Center "Beyond Oil" Conference
September 11, 2008

Here is the link to broadcast and online video by Washington State's public affairs television channel, TVW, of "The Road Ahead," a presentation given on Sept. 5, 2008 by Microsoft's Chief Environmental Strategist Rob Bernard at Cascadia Center's "Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation" conference in Redmond, Wash. Bernard is preceded by Don Foley with an update on national "X Prize" car rallies, King County Executive Ron Sims, and the Discovery Institute's President Bruce Chapman with welcoming remarks. To view, click on the link above or the screen embed below. (NOTE: Full transcript of Bernard's address is below, at bottom).

For air times of Sept. 5 Beyond Oil segments (for September, 2008) go to TVW's site, and click on "TV Schedule" in the upper left-hand corner.

Other TVW web video segments are linked below, under "More Sept. 5 'Beyond Oil' Conference Video."

Speaker PowerPoints and agenda here; media coverage here.

Cascadia Center thanks its "Beyond Oil" co-sponsors: Idaho National Laboratory; Microsoft; U.S. Department of Transportation; Washington State Department of Transportation; Puget Sound Clean Air Agency; and Pemco Insurance.

More Sept. 5 "Beyond Oil" Conference Video

"Transforming Transportation Globally," September 5, 2008 luncheon keynote address by Better Place CEO and founder Shai Agassi. Agassi's topic is electric vehicle systems development, renewable energy, and breaking dependence on foreign oil. He is introduced by Tom Alberg, of Madrona Venture Group. Better Place is based in Silicon Valley, and Israel. Background: "Driven: Shai Agassi's Audacious Plan To Put Electric Cars On The Road," Wired, 8/18/08.

"The Case For Change: Transforming Transportation," ex-CIA chief James Woolsey. Woolsey is introduced by U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, via video. After Woolsey's presentation, Woolsey is joined by Chelsea Sexton of Plug In America and K.C. Golden of Climate Solutions for a discussion. This TVW segment ends with "The Case For Bi-Partisan Action," by Peter Jackson of The Jackson Foundations.

"Future Of Transportation, Funding and Climate Change." Joining moderator Slade Gorton of the National Transportation Policy Project are Paul Brubaker of USDOT's Research & Innovative Technology Administration, David Kaplan of V2Green, WSDOT Sec. Paula Hammond, Bill Rogers of Idaho National Laboratory, and Neil Schuster of the American Assn. of Motor Vehicles Administrators. The panel discussion is preceded by a presentation from Admiral Dennis Blair of Securing America's Future Energy.

"Powering The Carbon-free Grid: Sun, Wind, Water, Waves, Atoms And Conservation." Panelists are: Jim Walker, American Wind Energy Assn.; Paul Genoa, Nuclear Energy Institute; Kevin Bannister, Oregon Wave Energy Trust; Rich Lauckhart, Ventyx Energy Advisors; Jim Piro, Portland General Electric.


Well thank you everybody for coming out and spending two days at Microsoft’s campus. For some of you, it may be your first visit here, for others, you’ve probably been here many times. I’d like to first thank Steve (Marshall), and Bruce (Agnew), and the entire Discovery Institute for putting on a great, great conference, not just this year, but in previous years. And it’s really great Steve and I have been talking about this for a while, just seeing how many people show up, and the momentum with which this conference has grown. So, first let’s thank Steve and Bruce and the whole team. (Applause).

I think the message has been pretty clear, those of you who saw (Washington Governor) Christine Gregoire yesterday: We have an urgent, urgent problem, and the time for transformation is now. Some would argue the time for transformation is actually behind us, and so we’re playing catch up. And I spend a lot of time looking at the data and the science, and it is becoming abundantly clear that the rate at which change is happening to our natural systems is accelerating faster than most of the scientists and most of the public policy folks had predicted. If you think back just a few years ago, the melting of the ice-cap was just a theoretical possibility in 2050. In one year - one year - that date went from 2050 to 2040 to 2030 to 2020, and now it’s at about 2015 or even sooner, in the summer. So, we’ve moved the goalposts basically 30 years in one year based on what the data is showing us. And so we have this urgency. And the interesting thing about this conference is that it highlights the need for interdependency across many many industries.

This is not just a transportation problem. This is a fuel problem, and a utility market problem, because all these things are going to collide. I’ve spoken with a lot of the power companies across the United States, spoken with a lot of the auto manufacturers, and they are starting to really understand this problem at a different level than I think if we were sitting here a year ago, they would have admitted or talked about. And I really encourage all of you who have not seen Shai Agassi speak - he speaks today at lunch, I believe, on his Better Place, and there there are some people here from Better Place - his vision is nothing short of transformational. What he understands, is that the public is ready for change at a huge scale. And if we here in this room can literally just unleash the market conditions that enable them to go pursue the behaviors that many of them want to pursue, we will see a mass adoption and a mass change in society. These things can happen very very rapidly if the infrastructure is in place. And so I think our collective role is to enable that infrastructure, and I’m going to talk a little bit about just (the) transportation sector today, although I’m happy if people want to talk about and ask questions about other stuff that we’re doing.

We’re going to talk about clean cars, and there’s a lot of stuff outside (indistinguishable) clean cars. The reality is that clean cars in and of themselves are not enough. We could have clean cars everywhere, you know, I was in China about 20 years ago, my first trip to China, and the only way to get around back then literally was a bicycle, and I rented a bicycle and I went to a number of cities. Today, those cities are filled with cars. And if we have any doubt what the future will look like when hundreds of millions of people - literally hundreds of millions of people - in the world who cannot afford a vehicle today but soon will, take to the roads in the same paradigm that we’ve taken to the roads, we’ll have a massive problem that will spiral well beyond just China. I know there was some talk about that yesterday and it is very true that we have to lead by example, and we are actively working, and I know that Steve and many others in the industry are looking at this problem at a global level, but I do think the U.S. has a unique opportunity to lead the market here. An so, we can transform from here. But if we have clean cars, it’s not enough, because we still have other issues to think about.

Clean cars don’t solve congestion. Clean cars don’t solve public safety, public health. These things, we’re still going to have traffic accidents, we have to make sure these things are safe. But when we think about solving the problem, the way we think about it here is, zero miles are the best miles. How do we keep people from actually getting in a vehicle whether it’s a bus, a car, a plane? We’re going to talk a little bit about that. The next best thing is a shared mile. Ron Sims talked very nicely and eloquently and we are working with Ron’s office and in Seattle and in 70 cities around the world on ways that we can have better shared miles. And then, once you’re in a car, which is a lot of what this conference is about, how do you make those the most efficient miles possible?

So what do we mean by ‘zero, shared and efficient’? Zero miles means, literally, zero miles. Substitution for petro-chemical or even electric-based transportation. The next are is shared, and we think about that both in terms of physical space, a bus, a plane. We also think about it in terms of virtual space. How do you use the power of technology, the Web, and services and business intelligence, to optimize efficiency both in the roads and in the vehicles. And then finally when you think about getting shared vehicles, (also) how do you get efficient, there’s a massive amount of software and technology. I don’t know if Shai will talk about his auto OS, VOS system they’re working with, but each of these cars that are being built today have a huge huge amount of componentry that’s based on software and services. And one of the examples, there a little picture here (referring to PowerPoint) of a Fiat, where you have this thing in Europe where you’re basically, today it’s with a pen drive, and it will evolve, but basically, it looks at your driving patterns and then gives you tips and tricks and optimizes, helps you optimize both the car and your driving patterns. And this is just sort of the early stages of how we think software and technology integrated with a car operating system could really radically improve efficiency in cars regardless of the fuel source.

So, zero miles. Something really simple to start with. Before you think about technology and new devices and new hardware, something as simple as calendering. So, we spend a lot of time and we’re spending time with our next version of Office, and we’re thinking about, how can we actually use the calendar as the first starting point to enable and drive telecommuting? So if you look at this schedule, this is for Mark (Aggar) and I think Mark’s here, Mark actually is our environmental technologist for the company, and spends a lot of time thinking about transportation systems, and one of the things we talk about is, how do I leverage the information in my calendar to keep me from coming to the office? Because if I can stay home I can get a lot of work done. So by literally looking at the blocks of time, and there’s color-coding options within Outlook that I use as well, you can say, hey, look, within this calendar, if Mark just moves around a few meetings, or makes them tele-presence meetings, he’s got an opportunity to work from home two, two-and-a-half days a week right off the top. Now, we do a lot of work with BT (British Telecom), out of the UK. BT has taken the idea of calendaring and moved to the idea of meeting-free days and moved on to the next level. Forty percent - 40 percent - of their workforce does not go to the office. Forty percent of their workforce works at home.

The thing that we’re also thinking about is, when each of these meetings gets scheduled, very often I’m scheduling them with someone else at Microsoft. BT realizes this as well, and what they’ve found is very often people were driving to an office, like I do, to Microsoft at Redmond, to meet with other people, but we live half a mile apart, in Seattle. So why don’t we meet at a coffee shop, at a Starbucks in Seattle, or one of our satellite offices which we have in Seattle? And so the next wave of evolution is to think about how does presence, and information about where I live and am located, come into play and integrate with your calendar, because I’ve now started to actually reduce my trips to Redmond quite substantially because I’ve discovered that many people I meet with, many people I work with, actually live closer to me than we both live here.

So, travel avoidance. Here’s an example. You know, Mark pulled a couple of screen shots where he’s talking to somebody that’s on our team and they said, hey we need to get together and have a conversation, the call goes to Mark’s office. Mark’s at home. Redirect. With the power of presence and technology, I can redirect any phone call to any location. I’ve done this when I’ve been in Europe. Somebody’s calling my office, I see who that person is and I say, ‘I need to take that call.’ I hit a re-direct, it rings to my phone in Europe. I don’t need to be anywhere except next to a phone. Ideally, I can actually do this through my PC as well. I’m not even dependent on the phone lines in any way, shape or form, alright, because it’s actually going through the back-end infrastructure of IT. So this is just a scenario we’re starting to see and play with. And more and more people at Microsoft and British Telecom and a lot of companies around the world are adopting this because zero miles are the most efficient miles.

One other thing that’s been a big barrier to distributed meetings is technology. So this is a screen shot of something called a roundtable, and if you look around the conference center here, and if you go to a room in Microsoft you’ll see these everywhere. What it is, it basically has seven mirrors, an array of mirrors and microphones. And as a person talks, you actually sort of see on the left-hand side here, that person dominates the screen, they can share a presentation, and at the bottom it stiches together a 360-degree view of the room. All this requires is a lap top, a phone line, and what we are trying to prove with this model is, tele-presence has historically been a very very expensive investment. This device is $3,000. Now, for $3,000 you can actually have a meeting with multiple people and have a 360-degree view. Now, the next iteration, or I’ll call it a parallel iteration, is what happens on the one-to-one model, which is some of the devices that you see up there (referring to PowerPoint presentation). More and more laptops have this built in. My laptop, I don’t have a Webcam anymore, it’s just built into my laptop. But if you can actually make the technology simple and abundant, and as Ron Sims noted, in Seattle we have the unique advantage of the fact that about 80 percent of our citizens are wired up with high-speed connectivity, this paradigm can take hold, and can take hold rapidly.

So that’s kind of the concept of zero miles, where we’re trying to push through the use of technology, getting out of cars, getting out of planes, trying to stop using petrochemical-based dependency and use I.T. (information technology) instead.

The next issue is shared miles. So we’re all familiar with the paradigm of mass transit. I take a bus, I take a subway, Seattle’s light rail, all these things are great, but they’re only great if you live close to a destination, a drop-off - a pick-up and a drop-off. This is really difficult. Like in my case I’d actually have to take three buses to get to Microsoft from my house, and it would take me about an hour-and-a-half to get here. So it’s great, and the vision is, get lots of bus and lots of mass transit and get lots of people off the road. But that model only works so well, because lots of people like me don’t have a direct line, so the convenience trade-off does not work.

So what do we do? Well one thing we did a as a corporation is, we said, wait a second. We have lots of centers of population who are disconnected, that can’t really take mass transit effectively to get to work, but are actually on the road every day. So we actually rolled out, last year about this time the (Microsoft) Connector buses. People have seen them around, I’m sure, the buses are all over. We did it for about four months as a trial and it was so successful that we doubled the fleet. To give you scale of what happened, so what happens is basically you go online and reserve your (seat), you get on the bus, and what’s great is, it’s not only convenient, it’s wired. So I can actually do work while I’m going to and from work, or maybe take a nap...Today we are now saving, we are taking off 250,000 car miles every single week in the Puget Sound area thanks to the Connector system, which is a pretty impressive number of miles. And we think that that number is going to increase. As gas prices have increased, ridership has increased and we’re looking at having more routes and more people.

This is done largely through technology, which is looking at where are the routes, where do people live, what are the right times of day, how do reservation systems work, and we’re working on actually increasing and improving this algorithm, but we have now, I believe, the world’s largest private transportation system, and so we’re moving quite a few people every single day. Now, for those companies and people that don’t actually have the kind of infrastructure that Microsoft does, we sort of looked at, King County’s looked at, rideshare. Well there’s an interesting problem with rideshare. It’s really hard to get people together...Mark talks about the fact that he and his wife live in the same house, they’re across the coffee table from each other, and they work a couple of miles away from each other, and they still can’t get it together because everybody’s schedules are all over the place. I know this as well. I commute with a couple of people from my town, and between our travel schedules and our meeting schedules, it doesn’t work. So the problem with rideshare is it’s a great concept, but unless you have a static job, which says I’m going to be coming and going at these exact times, and everybody else in my carpool is the same, it doesn’t work because it doesn’t take into account the dynamic reality of life.

So now the question is what do we do? So Microsoft researched, and a number of folks, and we’ve been working with Steve and a number of folks on this, we said, what do we do to actually take this concept that I talked about earlier of calendaring, geographical information and presence, and put these things together and say, wait a second, what if we use smart carpooling, or smart-pooling, and said, look, we can look at everybody’s calendar who signs up for the program, and we can find and accept matches, based on a schedule? So today if I happen to be leaving at 3:30, great, who else is leaving at 3:30 who lives in my zip code? Now all of a sudden I start to have a dynamic processing system that says I’m going to match you on the fly (with) other people who have a similar schedule and geographic location. You can have different riders in both directions, and you can reschedule, so I’ll see that a meeting comes up and I’ll say, oh, I’m going to take that meeting at 3:30, I’m now leaving at 4:30. System needs to go in and change who my riding partners are. So we’re experimenting with this at Microsoft, we believe that this will be the wave of the future. We’re getting people to carpool. Car-pooling is a great concept but it really doesn’t work at scale today.

We can smart-route, and there’s a couple of things I’m going to show you in just a minute. But the other thing that’s also an inconvenience in carpooling, I don’t know how many people have done this, your ride’s supposed to show up, and your ride doesn’t show up for five or ten minutes. Well if that person has a phone or if that car has a GPS, you can actually get alerted when that person is within a certain range of where you are. So I can say, hey, great, I’m going to meet at the Tully’s in my town, it’s a three-minute walk, notify me when that person is less than five minutes away and I’ll walk down and off we go. As opposed to, I’m going to get there and hope that at some time it’s going to work out....The other problem of mass transportation is unanticipated wait times. Or sort of the wild card of, I don’t know when I can actually get to something.

So, one of the things that was really interesting, we did an event called the Imagine Cup, where we said to students, and we challenged them, we said, imagine a world where software can help create a more sustainable environment. And just to give you an idea of how interesting and important this topic is, we had 200,000 students in a 106 countries enter this contest. And one of the most interesting ones, and Mark has spent some time with these guys as well, is there’s a team out of New Zealand that has created and looked at this thing that’s basically a taxi bus and what it does is it says based on your presence and your information in the city of Christchurch, they have a bunch of vans and a bunch of drivers, and they use route optimization and they were basically able to get wait times - where people would say I need to get from this point in the city to that point in the city - taxi bus system would work on it, send a taxi bus to pick you up, and off you’d go to pick up other people on the route. Kind of how we actually do things here on the campus at Microsoft for moving our own people around. They were able to get wait times down to about seven minutes, is that right, Mark? Two minutes, sorry, from seven minutes. Down to two minutes in a major city. Very cool stuff. So we’re working to see how can we take this and apply it to other cities.

Now, we talk a lot about - in fact most of the conversation I’ve seen and heard has been around the concept of commuter miles, and commuters. Well, if you take the concept of smart-pooling but you apply it to cargo, you have a whole new paradigm in the whole new fleet industry. Putting aside the economic challenges of a new model, think about the fact that most trucks do not go full. They do not go from Point A to Point B full. Most of those trucks probably weigh over 80,000 pounds. In some cases they can actually go over 100,000 pounds depending on what part of the country. A truck mile is 10,000 times more damaging to our infrastructure and roads than a car mile. So now we’ve got, back to my initial point, which is it’s not just about efficiency, it’s about public health, safety, wear and tear on our infrastructure. So if you can essentially drive a much more efficient trucking infrastructure with the same smart-pooling idea, you can radically change the wear and tear on our infrastructure, and most, not most, but the largest portion of fatalities in the transportation industry involve trucks. Take trucks off the road, fewer accidents, fewer fatalities. So all of this stuff is inter-related.

Finally, efficient miles, I won’t talk a lot about this, ah, because that’s what this whole conference is about and all of you in this room are more expert about this than I am. The one thing we do have to think about is that if things like Project Better Place and the Tesla and the Volt and all these things start to take off, if everybody drives home at night and they plug in, we’re going to have a big problem with the utility level. The grids are already stressed, especially around five o’clock at night, right, when air conditioning is still going in buildings, people go home and turn on their air conditioning. Now all of a sudden people are plugging their cars in, too. This is where software is going to be essential. We cannot plug into the grid, which is already having transformers melting down in some states, and expect this thing to work. There has to be smart, intelligent systems behind peak, off-peak, when to load, when to discharge, especially when we have bi-directional plugs. So we need to think about these things today, because, back to my initial statement (which) is, people will do the right thing in terms of energy efficiency if the infrastructure is in place. But if they plug things in and the grid starts falling over, and air conditioning systems start going off, we’re not going to solve this problem.

Finally, I’m just going to talk a little bit about some of the stuff that’s available to everybody in this room today, which is basically taking two simple concepts. One says, I can map the best way for you to get from one place to another anywhere here in Seattle, or really, anywhere in the world. But (by) car, you can go from Point A to Point B very simple and there’s ways to optimize your routes, you’re all familiar with this. But the problem is, especially during rush hour is, traffic. So we already have traffic information, as you can sort of see from the red, yellow, green and black here (referring to PowerPoint). We also have route information. So what if we combined both of those, and so there’s a new service on our maps, it’s based on a technology called Clear Flow, which says, actually give me a route, based on traffic. And as you can see, this map has actually been re-routed based on the dynamic information that’s happening in real time. This type of information should be and will be in cars in the future, so that your routes can recalculate, not just based on theoretical, but based on actual data. Now, it becomes even more interesting, and this is where Microsoft research is looking at it, and says, wait a second, if I gather this data over time, and we’ve been doing this in Seattle, I can predict, with high accuracy, what the road will look like in 15, 30, 45, 60 minutes. The UI (user interface) in this (slide) is just internal so it’s not very user-friendly, but each of those dots tell me different types of things. So if you look on the right, there’s a grey dot with green in it. Basically it’s telling me, with an exclamation point, in about 15 minutes 405 (Interstate 405) North is going to be jammed up. So if you’re actually going to get through 405, you’d better leave now, or expect a delay. And we’ve actually found - and we’ve been working on this algorithm quite a bit - that it is highly accurate and getting better as we get more data. Again, if our cars have smart infrastructure in them, we can gather this information in real time. And any city in the world can do this. So this is part of the stuff we’re working on and thinking about: how do you get more efficient miles.

So we have a lot of stuff we’re sort of working through, and thinking on, about how does all of this stuff come together over time. And hopefully this gives you just a little bit of a sense of how we’re thinking about these problems. And, most of this technology that we need to solve this problem is actually available today. So you got a sense from looking outside (at electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on display) and also from listening to Ron Sims, our biggest challenge will not be technology. The technology will be really really really hard. The biggest problem is policy. It’s behavior. It’s not necessarily technology. I was listening to NPR on the way in this morning, they talked about what’s going to happen to the tax credits for clean energy. What would that mean to over 120,000 jobs that might be eliminated if the tax credits for solar and wind aren’t renewed? That is not an infrastructure problem. Alright? Getting infrastructure in place to help subsidize the models for better battery power models that you guys are working on, better plug-in hybrids, is not necessarily a technology problem. There are lots of technology problems, but that is not the only problem.

So when we think about this, it’s really about changing the paradigms in the way we think. About six months ago I went to a governors forum meeting. Actually the governor from Michigan was there as well, and she was very interested in the concept of clean technology and clean energy and on the panel they said we have to actually prepare for a world where they said, we have to prepare for the certain reality that coal will be the dominant energy source for our country well past 2050. “Certain reality.” And so, I said, why is that the case? I said, imagine a world where clean energy is actually the substitute for coal, especially if we want to power up all these cars today while (the) energy-utility mix provides a better footprint. Solar-based and wind-based energy actually provides a much better infrastructure. And I said, well, imagine a world where a clean technology that provides power can grow at an annual compounded rate of over 40 percent per year. For those of you who might be following the solar industry, you might know that the solar industry grew at 42 percent, 43 percent, annual compounded growth last two years. And so you say, two years is interesting, but 15 years, at 40 percent sustained growth, is that possible? And so my point on the panel was, I actually know of an industry, built on silicon, which grew at an annual compounded rate of over 40 percent for over 20 years. Why is it not possible in our energy sector?

People have to be willing to sort of think about the paradigm differently and change their perspective. And so I think that we have, certainly the technology, the intelligence, the creative capital, the creative innovation skills to make this happen. But the last piece is that it’ll only happen if, at conferences like this, in addition to listening to speeches and talking, in break-out sessions, is that the players in this room connect, because cohesive action is required. Companies like Microsoft, like Toyota, like Better Place, like many of the companies in this room, need to be, I think, in concert. So one of the things my team does and one of the things we’re looking at is how do we, not just in transportation but in other sectors, work with the key industry players, even though those players will often compete at the end of the day, to drive change at scale. Because we cannot succeed in this quest if we do not work together to drive behavior change at a large scale. So what you can expect to see from us is more and more like working with Steve and his organization. Microsoft is saying, look, we’re not in the automotive industry, we’re not in the utility market, but our software powers that stuff. Most of the people in those industries are our customers. So how do we get together and bridge that divide, how do we actually create the software that’ll enable the infrastructure to empower this new vision in this new world, because not only can we do it, at this point I think it’s pretty obvious we have to go make this happen. So thank you Steve, and thank everybody very much for coming.”

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