Self-driving tech startup wars are on in the United States. Dozens of startups are showing off their niche to be the next big thing in the startup ecosystem. In the meantime, European startups are working hard to draw attention to this old continent. Fortunately, one British startup made it last year. FiveAI, Cambridge based artificial intelligence and self-driving tech startup, raised £27 million in September 2017.
FiveAI’s mission is delivering an autonomous vehicle (AV) software platform for mobility services. However, FiveAI CEO Stand Boland speaks of the startup’s mission more ambitiously: Taking on Uber and others.
Stan Boland is a well-known industry veteran who has been the head of startups Neul, Icera and Element 14. Tech Giants acquired all these startups more than £1 billion at total, over the years. That is to say, when Stan Boland (co)founds or manages a startup, it is not surprising to see the investment companies are queuing up to have the startup in their portfolio.
FiveAI’s platform will be a Level 5 system: self-driving in any scenario including extreme environments without any human interaction. Its system has all necessary sensors including LiDAR, yet it does not rely on vehicle generated 3D maps for decision-making. This might be useful to cut the power consumption and the processing power, but that is still a tough task for a UK startup without a backing OEM. We will see if 2021 is an optimistic target date.
FiveAI’s platform is part of a big plan: Startup leads the Innovate UK funded consortium, Streetwise. The group aims to develop AV technology along with insurance and service models for urban mobility. In 2017, Government awarded the group £12.8 million in funding, which is a third of the whole project cost.
FiveAI has a three-part plan to reach their goal:
- First, putting the minimum viable product on the road: a platform to run test vehicles. This phase is being done now.
- Second, commercial lunch of the advanced platform: Due date is announced as 2021.
- And third, market penetration: As Five AI’s plan to overtake all other mobility service providers, it will “need to raise a significant amount of money” to buy loads of cars.
You might be asking this question: it seems like just another autonomous driving tech startup, what is so different about FiveAI? CEO, Stan Boland answered this question in a few interviews: “We are creating a solution that is specifically designed to tackle the problem of urban driving in Europe’s medieval streets, starting in London; it’s extremely challenging but the reward for society is huge.”
He has got a point here, because Europe is different than US in many ways. Public transport is more accessible. Cities are denser. Infrastructure is more challenging. Connected cars market penetration is lower. And European Union is likely to implement its unique regulations. If these statements are too abstract for you, just think of the narrow streets of Cordoba or crazy motorcyclists of Naples. Then, Stan Boland may sound more reasonable.
Obviously, FiveAI’s board has a vision on autonomous future of Europe (although UK is exiting EU) and it is taking steps forward to take on competitors in Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). However, will it be successful to scale up all around the world? Competing with Chariot, Lyft, Uber and MOIA should not be easy-peasy, yet FiveAI’s successful CEO looks like he knows what he is doing. Moreover, British Government takes AV technology and MaaS as an industry vision and supports any brave move in these areas. Thus, FiveAI has a chance to go mainstream in AV mobility market, at least in Europe.
What do you think, could FiveAI beat big players in MaaS market?
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