I absolutely love this technology, but believe it to be largely an interim technology and thus we passed on this investment. Time will tell if we were right or wrong.
The reason we dove into this technology relates to the principal problem with autonomous vehicles: it’s difficult to have repeated failures without causing catastrophe. Autonomous vehicles can act perfectly in environments where only autonomous vehicles exist. The moment you introduce humans, you introduce human error, which makes Tesla’s autopilot and Waymo’s job that much harder. If their technology fails even once, people can die and the industry can be held back a decade or more. These little guys can bump into people and things all day long, and no one is really going to care. Which means they can learn faster. Rapid failure is the best way to learn quickly.
At Shipwire, I would say one reason for our success was that we had thousands of small customers, and could test out new ideas and features faster than someone with just a few large customers. Our ability to fail rapidly, and without major catastrophe to the business, allowed us to learn faster than anybody else.
All that said, I have a hard time seeing the business cases for tiny autonomous cars. They are chasing students on online campuses for a reason: density of customers, central pickup points, etc. But is there a $10 billion dollar business here serving a density of customers from centralized pickup points? Yes, but not with little moving cars littering the street where I’m walking. Drones get me more excited, with a third dimension of travel: up or down.
Could there be lanes on roads dedicated to these little cars? Could hospitals use them for interdepartmental transfers? Could “campuses” of all kinds be built with a modern day equivalent of pneumatic tubes?
Or are there autonomous vehicles that solve real world problems better than little cars and drones? Check out these autonomous boats connected to form movable bridges.
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. We need your help to find specific use cases for autonomous vehicles FIRST, and THEN package up versions of these technologies to service the use cases.
Hype Cycle for Connected Vehicles