Autonomous cars have a tough problem to face, a huge potential market that is hugely popular right now, and a lot of people are invested in the potential future. This includes up-and-coming students who are studying new technologies and already existing companies who think the future of the market is all set around autonomy.
Unless you're a major automotive manufacturer, though, a ton of your startup time and cost is going to be burned buying and modifying a car to test your software on. It can't just be any car. It needs to be fully drivable by wire, including gas, brakes and steering. And it needs to have a bunch of onboard cameras and sensors, as well as the processing power to deal with all that input.
Not to mention, not everyone wants to start teaching a car to self-drive from scratch. Autonomy is such a gigantic and complex problem that there's plenty of hay to be made chewing away at small, digestible chunks of it.
So one UK startup is making it as easy as possible. StreetDrone is selling a fully integrated autonomous car platform, ready to roll, built on the tiny Renault Twizy and pre-loaded with open-source self-driving software, so developers are free to take or leave or modify whichever bits they wish.
"Basically, our car is like the Raspberry Pi of autonomous cars," StreetDrone CEO Mark Preston told us over the phone from his Oxford office. A 20-year veteran of the Formula 1 paddock, having been chief of R&D for the Arrow team and also working for McLaren and Super Aguri, Preston spotted an opportunity in the R&D space as self-driving vehicles start to take their first wobbly steps.
"Our basic idea is that there'll be an R&D market for the next 5-7 years maybe," he told us. "Nobody's sure right now how long it'll be until everything's fully commercialized. It's unclear how the first vehicles will start to go onto the road in a commercial sense. So at the moment we're supplying to that R&D market."
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