“Going to the Place Where the Work is Done": My Summer Internship with Toyota’s Social Innovation Group

By: Kris Weng | August 28, 2017

This year, Toyota and Net Impact named me and my teammates at Georgia Tech as the national winners for the Next Generation Mobility Challenge.  Our concept was for an app-based, para-transit taxi service that would give people who use wheelchairs a safe, affordable and flexible way to get around to supplement current public para-transit transportation services, which are affordable, but can be inflexible and slow. (You can check out a demo here.)

As part of our prize, we had internships this summer in collaboration with Toyota’s Social Innovation team in partnership with Net Impact at Toyota’s new North American headquarters in Plano, TX to help build out this concept.

Over the summer, we learned to approach tasks in what they call “the Toyota Way.” 

Our manager, Ryan Klem, Director of the Toyota Mobility Foundation, gave us a crash course in Toyota Business Practice (TBP), the problem solving methodology developed at Toyota. TBP focuses on breaking down a problem to discover its root cause before developing countermeasures. With TBP in mind, we were able to find a niche where we can serve the market and help bring mobility to more people who need it most. 

The first step of TBP is problem clarification. We realized that we were trying to address too many mobility problems at once. To focus on a measurable objective, we narrowed our scope to the lead time in paratransit trip reservation; basically, how far in advance people have to plan their trip. 

The Americans with Disability Act states that transit authorities are not required to provide any service until 24 hours after a trip has been requested. This greatly hinders the mobility and spontaneity of the disabled community, which led us to identify the key problem as the 24-hour lead time. I know many of my dinners or hang-outs happen with less than 24-hours’ notice!

To further break down the problem, we implemented the idea of Genchi Genbutsu (現地現物, "actual place, actual thing”), which means to understand an issue by going to the place where work is done. We visited the local Paratransit service to observe their scheduling and route matching procedure. 

There, we found that the technology was the root cause of the 24-hour delay for Dallas residents who use Para transportation systems. Through our interview with the dispatching supervisor, we learned that their software was too outdated to perform real time scheduling. Further, different software employed in the system did not synergize well with each other, causing confusion and operational inefficiency.

The team decided the countermeasure is to create the technology to fill the gaps - both in the software and vehicles. 

While there’s still more work to be done, TBP helped us discover the space where we can make the biggest difference for paratransit riders.

To learn more about Toyota's social innovation work and the Next Generation Mobility Challenge, check out this post by Jamie Bonini, Vice President of Toyota Production System Support Center. 

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