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MobilityXlab – interfacing startups with major corporations

A one-stop shop where startups can meet with five major companies, pitch their ideas and enter into some form of collaboration on the transport of the future. That's the idea behind the newly founded MobilityXlab in Lindholmen.

"We want to try to broaden and strengthen Gothenburg's position," says Dennis Nobelius, CEO of Zenuity, one of the founding companies.

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"If you talk to startups, what you find is that they lack data and contact with major companies, so that they can present themselves and their capabilities. What MobilityXlab can offer is neutral ground and a creative environment where you can come in and work and gain direct contact with five major companies."

Dennis Nobelius, CEO of Zenuity, leans back in his chair in the meeting room on the eighth floor of the building in Lindholmen and explains how the idea behind MobilityXlab, an innovation hub, was hatched in the autumn of 2016, essentially as a practical necessity. Newly formed company Zenuity, equally owned by Volvo Cars and Autoliv, develops software for self-driving cars and had just settled into Piren2, a brown brick building in Lindholmen, and was mulling over whether they should lease all eight floors of the building.

"What's more, we were considering what was actually missing at Lindholmen Science Park and in the Gothenburg region, and I was convinced that it was a lack of contact with small businesses. If you look around Lindholmen, there are plenty of relatively large companies – but how do you create an interface with small businesses? That was really how it all started."

Dennis got in touch with Niklas Wahlberg, CEO of Lindholmen Science Park, who was keen on the idea. Together with Hampus Ahlqvist at Zenuity, they began outlining how such an interface could be put into practice and what you could do with it. They also looked into whether any other partners were interested in getting involved.  

"We soon found that Volvo Cars was interested in the idea, as was AB Volvo. They said that they have Lundby Campus, but one need not exclude the other. And, moreover, if a bridge is built over the intersecting road (Lundbyleden), all the better for eventually merging the two more tangibly. Ericsson was the last partner to join, but when they did they played a very prominent role."

Just before summer 2017, an agreement was entered into by the five partners – Zenuity, Autoliv, Volvo Cars, AB Volvo and Ericsson.

There are two reasons behind the founding companies' involvement in MobilityXlab – to attract startups and to develop joint projects for solutions to the transport of the future, primarily within electrification, connectivity and self-driving vehicles. The entire automotive industry is undergoing immense transformation and new actors such as Google, Tesla and Apple are challenging the established automotive giants. In light of this, MobilityXlab can be seen as a way to scour the region – and the world – for entrepreneurs with new, innovative ideas.

"We can view MobilityXlab as a one-stop shop to truly meet with five companies, pitch ideas and enter into some form of collaboration. Depending on your ideas or needs, you can gain access to various data from the different founding companies. It's also about showing how to break into the city and how to gain access to the resources that are available. MobilityXlab is to provide a hub for just that," says Dennis.

MobilityXlab isn't seeking out a particular mix of startups, that's being left to fate.

"There will be a garage, there will be data, and there will be a prototype cloud. I think those are the fundamentals. Anything beyond that we can add as we go along, depending on needs."

Dennis estimates that the floor ought to be able to accommodate at least 80 people. The idea is to be able to switch guests – every three or six months – to provide openings for new startups with new ideas, and the opportunity to help them on their product journey at MobilityXlab. 

Are there any international role models for MobilityXlab?

"No, not really."

So you're the role model…?

"We probably need to think things over a bit more to become a true role model. But when it comes to quickly getting things off the ground and opening a direct line to the small businesses that are actually out there, we'll probably be world class within a few months."

Do you have any thoughts on what technology you want to attract?

"We'd like to see everything from interesting sensor companies to highly technical experts in the fields of cameras and vision, data management and cyber security. And I know that Volvo Cars is interested in augmented reality. The greater the depth, the more interesting it gets. Classic research companies and spin-offs from universities are obviously of interest. Relatively early on we got in touch with Chalmers Ventures to see what they thought about the idea. They're at a very early stage in funding their businesses and we have a good relationship. Once they gain a little more momentum and strength in their businesses, they could spin them off to our interface here at MobilityXlab. So there's definitely potential there."

Who will register the patents and profit from the innovations hatched in the lab?

"The whole IP issue is still open to discussion. We've said that first we'll get things off the ground and then resolve other matters as they arise, and that includes IP issues. We believe in a more open environment rather than locking things down as otherwise no one will be interested in working there."

When we meet in two years, what will have happened?

"By then I think that a number of startups will have been bought up by the founding companies. There could also have been a lot of startups here to test their ideas that realised they weren't worth further investment. Or they might have benefited from the available leverage and broad network and grown big and strong on their own. Then I can imagine that the companies on the entire second floor are intensively involved in networking and cross-fertilisation and using the clearly and well mapped resources available in the region."

What will your role be?

"I work at one of the founding companies, so in that sense I'm involved. And then I also wonder how our expertise and personnel at Zenuity can be used to support a startup or to try to embrace all that's happening downstairs, so I'll always have an active interest. But really, I'm just like any other founder."

In addition to the innovation lab on the second floor, MobilityXlab has a showroom on the ground floor.

"There we face the challenge of getting all five or six partner companies to combine what we do and how we think and then express that in a common vision."

The ambition is to continually update the showroom content so as to attract everyone from high school classes to foreign delegations who are curious about what's happening in Lindholmen.  

"There's great interest in all that's going on here. For example, I was at Michigan University not so long ago and they'd heard about Lindholmen, about the great model we've devised together with Lindholmen Science Park and the partnership between industry, academia and the city. So they're coming here to visit. And it feels quite natural to show them our vision of the future."

Right next door to the showroom and Zenuity's entrance, construction is well under way on the café that is soon to open its doors onto Lindholmsallén and to the public.

"Then we'll suddenly have an open environment where you come in for a cup of coffee and then take a look at the exhibition. And maybe you have an interest in one of the startups on the second floor so you go and speak to them. We're surrounded by so many closed environments, if we can open things up a little more it'll create a larger interface and more will happen."

So it starts with a cup of coffee and ends with a patent…?

"That would be something."

At the time of writing, there are more than 20 startups that want in on the lab without MobilityXlab really having marketed itself.

"We've had one company from New York and one from Germany get in touch out of the blue simply because of all the attention the initiative has received. It'd be fantastic if we could not only attract regional startups, but also international companies. We want to try to broaden and strengthen Gothenburg's position."

So says Dennis, looking out the window towards the plot of land where Geely's future innovation centre will stand. 

"Why do people come to the Gothenburg region to work? I think that some of the appeal, quite naturally, lies in the ties to Geely, Volvo Cars, AB Volvo, Ericsson, SKF and the entire corporate environment that exists here, together with the universities and technical colleges. If you then add to that Sweden's natural surroundings and environment, our high standard of living and everything else associated with living and working in Sweden, then we start to see such an attractive mixed bag that people find it interesting to try their luck here. You might start out at Zenuity, but you know that there's no reason to stop there, that you can move on to another company because there are so many possibilities out there. The region is a melting pot, and we need to highlight that aspect too, not just the individual companies."

Per Österström

"Open innovation environments with cross-industry collaborations are becoming increasingly important in order to stay abreast of technological developments. MobilityXlab is a great initiative in which startups and SMEs can now gain direct contact and develop joint projects and solutions for the transport of the future with some of Sweden's largest and most successful companies, companies with operations throughout the world. This model for interfacing with startups could even be used in other industries as well," says Per Österström, Group Manager Transport and Vehicles at Business Region Göteborg.

In the conceptual world, we hear talk of virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). Virtual reality technology is about creating a completely virtual environment, while augmented reality is about combining the real world with virtual objects. Many companies today use AR technology to create experiences for their customers, enabling them to equip and visualise a product from both the inside and the outside as either a virtual model or a hologram in a real environment. It can also involve providing virtual information objects integrated with the real world at given positions. Already in 2011 Corning released some now classic videos that gained worldwide coverage:


In 2015, Volvo Cars began collaborating with Microsoft HoloLens to look at possible applications for AR technology:


Today, AR technology is used in research and development, as an instructional aid in repair work and, within the automotive sector, in driver assistance systems that project information onto the windscreen. Then there's SAR, or spatial augmented reality, which is used as a way to look inside a product, peeling it away layer by layer without actually opening it.

"Many analysts believe that AR will revolutionise both gaming and the customer experience. One example is shopping, where you can go shopping with your virtual shopping trolley in the 'real' department store from the comfort of your own sofa, with a virtual chef or interior designer showing you what to buy and how it will look in your home. This year, GTC's (Göteborgs Tekniska College) concept studio Smarta Fabriker (Smart Factories) in Lindholmen has provided the opportunity to test just what AR technology can achieve within industrial production and many companies have collaborated with GTC students on their thesis projects. In the spring of 2018, the doors will be opening once again in Gothenburg, with even more to show," says Per.

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