The smart lab think tank is rolling out an innovative service spectrum, designed to enhance the smart model range. With its latest services, smart “ready to drop” and smart “ready to share,” the brand sets new benchmarks for tomorrow’s mobility. smart lab product lead Carina Sandbrink joins us to look back – and also take a peek into the future.
In Carina Sandbrink’s calendar, two days in May have been highlighted and reserved for quite some time. She’s scheduled to meet opinion leaders from social media, online platforms, and the start-up economy at two key events in Berlin. And she’s not turning up empty-handed: Sandbrink delivers convincing ideas for all those urban pioneers who’ve been asking themselves how to get even more out of their car in metropolitan environments: Say hello to smart “ready to drop,” a service that turns your car into a package drop, and smart “ready to share,” which allows you to loan out your smart to friends and colleagues, for example. The resulting response to Carina Sandbrink’s talk at the Mercedes-Benz Social Media Night at Berlin’s Mercedes-Welt is predictably an excited buzz. And when she presents these smart services at the digital and innovation conference re:publica, as part of a series featuring Daimler innovations like car2go, croove, and Startup Autobahn, the pervasive spirit of progress and optimism is palpable.
As someone who’s employed by a car brand, yet works in a “lab,” you’re probably used to questions about your department. How would you describe your own task and mission?
Carina Sandbrink: The smart lab is the brand’s think tank for new connected car services. We develop a range of different services that build on the features of the existing Connectivity Box – a device installed behind the windshield that’s already proven its worth at car2go. While the online-based technology’s main functions are localizing, unlocking, and locking the vehicle, it also has plenty of scope for other applications like our two services smart “ready to drop” and smart “ready to share.”
You have your own, special connection to smart “ready to drop,” the first of these new smart services. Wasn’t the idea triggered by a personal experience?
Carina Sandbrink: That’s true. I’ve wasted a lot of time waiting in line at the post office to pick up my purchases. This sparked the idea behind smart “ready to drop” – shipping orders straight to the trunk of your smart.
The beta phase of smart “ready to drop” launched in early 2017, inviting users in several German cities to try the new service. What kind of reactions are you getting?
Carina Sandbrink: The first time you tell people about it, there’s usually an epiphany. After all, we’re all familiar with the issue of needless queuing after work or on the weekend, so people really love our solution. When we started the pilot test, I received plenty of emails with pictures or videos about successful deliveries. That was pretty cool! Naturally, we’re constantly working on making the service even better, e. g. via a more comprehensive product portfolio in terms of order options or even more streamlined usability.
Terms like beta phase or testing are fairly exotic in the automotive industry since vehicles only ever reach market once all of the kinks have been ironed out. Just how much of a radical rethink did this require?
Carina Sandbrink: New mobility services and competitors have really changed the playing field for car manufacturers. For the development of connected car services, we need to approach our work differently and also have a much shorter time-to-market. Yet there’s also this noticeable optimism and eagerness to try out new products and services. Take the premise of turning customers into co-creators, involving them in the product development process – that’s a really exciting approach. At the same time, these insights are then trialed with real data derived from user behavior. The result is very economical because we only focus on the options our customers actually want.
In June 2017, smart “ready to share” will join and augment the service portfolio: The service lets authorized owners share their smart with friends and neighbors via app. Since many urbanites are already used to (and using) carsharing: How do people like this new service?
Carina Sandbrink: Initial reactions have been incredibly promising. For example, straight after my talk at the Mercedes-Benz Social Media Night, a member of the audience approached me. He loved the idea and wanted to make his car available to charitable causes during his working hours. To me, it felt like he’d spontaneously come up with this idea during my talk. This shows just how exciting and intriguing people’s reactions to this service can be – whether they’re simply looking for a way to refinance their car or wanting to give something back to the public.
Should we consider these two services a blueprint for the core idea behind the new smart services?
Carina Sandbrink: Yes. Both “ready to” services distil all the strengths of our brand: The perfect urban car meets the tech of car2go and our mobility services – the best of both worlds. This allows us to offer our customers something brand new. People are already familiar with the outstanding characteristics of smart – a tiny turning circle, excellent for parking – but now, with the new “ready to” services, we are trying to completely redefine what urban mobility could mean.
Let’s briefly return to the smart lab: How did you end up at this department?
Carina Sandbrink: After studying at the University of Arts, Berlin, I found my way to Daimler through trend and future research. One stop of the Daimler trainee program then took me to car2go. Here, I first started toying with the idea of using the carsharing service technology – tried-and-tested in millions of rentals – to offer entirely new services for final customer vehicles. When I talked to my boss about the idea of ready to drop, he was very open. And since I didn’t come from a traditional automotive background anyway, they were already used to similar wild ideas from me (laughs).
Is the smart lab suffused with a special pioneering spirit?
Carina Sandbrink: This pioneering spirit has been an integral part of the smart brand DNA since the very beginning – back in 1998, it was already conceived as a mobility concept. And the smart fortwo two-seater was also ahead of its time; that’s something we’re now continuing to build on with the smart services. Personally, I am passionate about the brand, so most of all I want to make our vehicles attractive and our customers’ life in the city easier.
Does such an innovative department also require a new structure?
Carina Sandbrink: Absolutely, I would describe us as a swarm-like association. Some of my colleagues work at Daimler Mobility Services, some at car2go, others at smart. Our approach is very agile and we’re all highly motivated to work on new services and – by sharing our results with the entire group and our large sister brand Mercedes-Benz – to reinvent urban mobility.
As part of its new corporate strategy, CASE, Daimler has brought together the areas of connectivity, autonomous driving, carsharing including services around the car, and electro mobility. In many of these areas, smart is one of the leading brands. Where do you see the brand’s role within the Daimler group?
Carina Sandbrink: You can feel the fresh air throughout the entire company. It’s great to be a part of it right now because the industry is just about to experience a major change in terms of mobility. We want to use our advantages at smart to be a speedboat for Daimler that can play a key part in driving the digital transformation.
What is your own, personal mobility strategy?
Carina Sandbrink: Intermodal and flexible. My mobility matrix covers the entire spectrum – from bike and taxi to car and public transport.