5 New Self Driving Car Companies
The notion of cars that drive themselves is one that becomes more and more real with each passing day. Acquisitions seem to be happening left and right, and almost every major auto manufacturer is devoting resources to bring us a self driving car. Companies like Google, Uber, and Tesla are all devoting significant investments to the self driving car with the universal target date of “2020” for commercialization being forecasted by nearly all of these players. Mobileye, about the only pure-play self driving car stock out there, recently announced a partnership with Delphi and a target date of 2019. While all eyes remain fixed on the big names in this game, there are some new entrants to this space that you may never heard of but that are getting closer and closer to making the self driving car a reality. The bright minds over at CB Insights recently published the following helpful diagram showing 5 new companies working on the self driving car:
It’s simply incredible to think that prior to 2015 none of these companies existed. Let’s take a closer look at what each one is getting up to.
Just yesterday, nuTonomy announced that their first self driving cars have hit the road in Singapore as “robo-taxis” that will patrol a small 1.5 square mile area of Singapore known as “One North”. It’s no surprise that nuTonomy decided to debut in Singapore considering that one of their investors is the Singapore Economic Development Board. It’s probably fair to say that they aren’t going to experience any regulatory hurdles in Singapore and will probably be able to enjoy exclusivity for some time there. Nutonomy, which was a spinout from MIT, is expecting a “fully self-driving car fleet” by 2018 and has partnerships with a number of auto manufacturers that include Jaguar Land Rover. The company’s platform includes a ride-hailing app just like Uber, and they are also testing their self-driving car technology in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
Nauto is developing a “connected camera network” and “artificial intelligence-driven smart cloud” to help prevent accidents before they happen. What this buzzword-heavy value proposition really means is that the Company has developed static dash cameras that record near-misses, driver distraction, tailgating and other events that can help provide the root causes for a crash. It’s easy to see how this type of solution might be used for insurance companies to see who is liable in the event of an accident. While Nauto sees their technology eventually enabling true autonomy in new and older cars, at the moment they are successfully selling their driver monitoring solution to commercial fleets of drivers in 23 cities around the U.S.
Drive.ai is a startup with roots in Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab and was the 13th company to be granted a license to test self-driving cars on public roads in California (yes, there’s a lot of competition in this space). The Company considers itself to be a “deep learning” company that focuses on all the “edge cases” that pop up when you are driving. Probably 95% of driving is straight forward but what about when another driver runs a stop sign or any other set of unexpected events happens? Drive.ai thinks that deep learning is the best way to handle these “edge cases” though it seems highly unlikely they’re the first company to think that deep learning is the way forward to commercialize a self-driving car.
AdasWorks describes themselves as a “full-stack software company delivering artificial intelligence-based software for self-driving cars” and has 80 researchers working towards developing that software. The Company has partnered with Nvidia, Intel, Qualcomm, and Volvo though the extent of these partnerships is unclear with the exception of Nvidia who provides the hardware for their software to run on. Their technology solution uses cameras and computer vision instead of LiDAR, and they have plans to test 100 self-driving cars in Gothenburg next year.
We saved you the best for last. If you haven’t been following the story of Comma then you need to hear this one.
It starts with 26-year-old George Hotz who became famous when he unlocked both the iPhone and Playstation along with achieving a host of other notable hacking accomplishments. Mr. Hotz spent time working at Google, Facebook, and even hot AI startup Vicarious before starting Comma. The goal of Comma is to sell a self-driving car kit that anyone can buy off the shelf and use in their car, provided the car has anti-lock brakes and power steering.
So after starting his company, Mr. Hotz tells Elon Musk that if he can build a system better than Mobileye, Musk should switch to Comma and dump Mobileye. Apparently, the two companies couldn’t come to an agreement and the two geniuses parted with bruised egos resulting in Tesla publishing a news release to reinforce their commitment to Mobileye and to take a few potshots at Comma as seen below:
We think it is extremely unlikely that a single person or even a small company that lacks extensive engineering validation capability will be able to produce an autonomous driving system that can be deployed to production vehicles. It may work as a limited demo on a known stretch of road — Tesla had such a system two years ago — but then requires enormous resources to debug over millions of miles of widely differing roads.
Ouch. As it turns out, Tesla recently dumped Mobileye for reasons unknown but probably not because of Comma. While Hotz is no doubt a genius, all the media articles so far on Comma’s technology seem to revolve around volatile encounters with the charismatic founder and close encounters in his self-driving Acura that sound more early-stage prototype than anything. Still, Comma says they’ll have a kit out in 2016 (about 4 months left) at a price point of around $1,000.
If you want to get involved with Comma and help them beat all the Goliaths out there, they have developed an app called Chffr which lets you use your smartphone as a dashcam to collect data while you drive which is then sent wirelessly to the Company. The more you use the app, the more “Comma Points” you gain, and Mr. Hotz has said that the people with the most Comma Points are going to be “very happy” soon.
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