Automotus’ Jordan Justus is using AI-powered automation to help cities manage and monetize growing demand for commercial curb space while reducing emissions.
In the spring of 2017, Jordan Justus was a senior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles majoring in entrepreneurship. He was commuting four days a week from his home in Westchester to nearby Santa Monica for an internship with now-defunct crowdfunding platform Crowdfunder.
The six-mile, heavily congested drive routinely took more than an hour, reinforcing the findings of UCLA parking guru and distinguished research professor Donald Shoup, who had observed in a 2007 article that 30 percent of traffic congestion comprises drivers circling the block looking for parking.
“The daily commute was becoming a death by a thousand cuts,” says Justus. “Through the internship, I’d been exposed to decarbonization technologies and AI technologies such as machine learning and deep learning, all of which could be applied to dealing with this very archaic congestion problem. I thought to myself, ‘There’s a lot we can do here.’”
Managing Public Rights of Way
Today, as the CEO of Automotus, an L.A.-based start-up, Justus is helping cities and airports remove congestion, safety hazards and inefficiencies from the public right of way while reducing emissions.
Using curbside monitoring technology, his team is showing customers how to manage and monetize pandemic-induced demand for commercial curb space by delivery services such as Amazon, UPS and DoorDash.
Automotus technology can also be used to manage public rights of way such as hospitality zones, zero-emission zones, TNC pick-up/drop-off zones, bicycle lanes and bus-only zones.
“Every city official gets complaints from constituents and business improvement districts that delivery trucks are double parking and blocking their bike lanes,” observes Justus. “For their part, delivery services complain that they can’t get deliveries in and out. It’s a big problem for cities today.”
Reducing Chaos at the Curb
According to research data gathered by Automotus, commercial activity makes up more than 50 percent of curb activity in major U.S. cities, resulting in large numbers of safety hazards, CO2 emissions, and operating inefficiencies. In this environment,
37 percent of parking is double parking, which creates congestion and safety hazards;
delivery companies spend more than $9 billion annually in failed deliveries and parking tickets because their drivers cannot access the curb efficiently; and
less than five percent of commercial drivers pay for parking via apps, meters, etc.
To address this chaos at the curb, Justus and his team have enlisted AI-powered computer-vision technology.
“We put up cameras that analyze what happens in the public right of way to show cities what percentage of parked vehicles are passenger vehicles, buses, delivery vans or freight trucks,” he explains. “Then we automate payment enforcement to support whatever regulations, policies and prices implemented by cities to achieve their desired outcomes, including accelerating transit adoption or decarbonizing last mile logistics.”
Justus was born and raised in Camarillo, Calif., a community about 50 miles northwest of Los Angeles. He attributes his entrepreneurial spirit to his parents, who ran their own business buying and selling refurbished computer hard drives to customers worldwide.
“I was exposed to entrepreneurship at an early age,” he recalls. “Sometimes people think that being an entrepreneur is riskier or potentially harder than a ‘normal’ job, but I’ve found it to be just like any other job.”
Justus’ interest in building something from the ground up was also reinforced by a stint coaching a local middle school basketball team while in high school.
“I’ve always loved being part of a team,” he says. “I definitely align with the idea of getting high performers to go out and play their best game every day.”
Uncovering an Emerging Need
Justus and his co-founder, Harris Lummis, met at LMU. After recognizing the opportunity to apply AI technologies to solving parking and congestion problems, they went to the 2017 Transforming Local Government conference in Tulsa, Okla. where they developed a dummy website and a dummy business called Parking System Technologies.
To their surprise, six U.S. cities signed up for their waitlist, signaling growing, post-pandemic demand by city managers for a more automated, more efficient way to manage the commercial curb. To help meet this demand, Justus and Lummis launched Automotus in Sept. 2017.
Capturing Reality, Protecting Privacy
Today, the company is operational in seven U.S. cities including Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Omaha, Neb. and Dublin, Ohio. It plans to deploy more than 4000 cameras in an additional 13 municipalities. Typically, cameras are mounted on utility poles adjacent to commercial loading zones of interest.
“We process all of our video footage at the edge, in the camera itself,” Justus explains, a process enabled by high-speed graphical processing unit (GPU) chips in the camera.
Automotus does not store video, he emphasizes, but rather uses AI to analyze camera frames in real-time to extract data about vehicles in the scene (license plates, e.g.). This data, which is used to execute transactions or violations, is sent to the cloud and processed by Amazon Web Services, while all real-time video data is immediately dumped. As an added layer of privacy protection, Automotus also blurs the faces of people or license plates of nonrelevant vehicles caught in the loading zone imagery.
Promoting Shorter Stays, Cleaner Air
Automotus’ curb monitoring and billing strategies are designed to motivate drivers to get in and get out quickly.
“Our system is completely automated via license plates,” says Justus. “It’s effectively a toll road for the curb.”
For example, a driver stopped at the curb for five minutes would be billed seven cents per minute, but if he lingers for 10 minutes, the cost rises to 10 cents per minute. At 15 minutes, the cost goes to 15 cents per minute, and at 30 minutes, it rises to 25 cents per minute. As a result, curbside spots turn over frequently, which reduces congestion caused by drivers looking for parking.
Automotus technology also helps cities reduce urban emissions and encourage electric vehicle (EV) adoption by offering discounted rates (or even free parking) to EV drivers, Justus adds.
Workdays begin early in the two-bedroom apartment that Justus rents in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Los Feliz. Out of bed typically by 6:30 a.m., he fights the urge to check e-mail, opting instead for 10 to 15 minutes of meditation.
“I’m trying to be more thoughtful and less reactive these days to the steady stream of requests,” he offers. “As the leader of a startup with a small team, it’s very important to leverage my time as much as possible, getting the most benefit out of every day.”
After meditation, Justus hops on the Metro Red Line for the 12-minute subway commute to his office in downtown L.A. At work, he focuses on identifying new clients, developing new strategies for deploying cameras, and generally optimizing value for Automotus clients.
“At Automotus, we work with a lot of different brands, investors, and customers, so there’s always a lot going on,” Justus clarifies. “In this setting, it’s important for me to never get too high or too low about anything, but just focus on what I can do each day
to advance the mission and meet our daily goals.”
When pressed, Justus places Automotus in the early stages of the “crawl, walk, run” cycle of development. He believes, however, that favorable “tailwinds” in the form of federal grants for innovative transportation projects and growing interest in curb management technologies are beginning to pick up.
"There are two things that make Automotus’ approach so powerful,” he claims. “It’s automated and it’s dynamic. We’re gathering data automatically to inform reality at the curb, and we’re using that data to incentivize good outcomes and disincentivize bad outcomes. We’re automating absolutely everything we can and giving cities tools they need to manage the curb dynamically in real-time to react to the realities on the ground.”
Ultimately, Justus hints, he and his Automotus team are swinging for the fences.
“We’ve had a few small wins so far," he suggests, "but we won’t be happy with anything less than seeing our technology deliver an impact to the commercial curb on a significant scale.”
And that will help U.S. cities breathe a lot easier.
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If you enjoyed this profile, you might also enjoy reading about Seattle's efforts to manage its curb in the wake of climate change. If you have suggestions for other topics or people you'd like to see covered in this blog, please send your ideas to me at email@example.com. Many thanks.