If all goes according to plan, Dutch mobility startup Amber’s self-driving cars will hit the streets by mid-2018. Amber CEO Steven Nelemans made the announcement at the Hannover Messe, one of the world’s biggest industrial fairs, back in April.
Amber started as a student team at the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e). The university is known for its advanced automotive courses and ambitious student teams.
Apart from Amber, other spin-offs include a company working on a new way of energy storage for heavy transport using formic acid and one building a commercial car charged with solar power. Cooperations between the TU/e and automotive companies in the Brainport region of Eindhoven provide a fertile ecosystem for ambitious tech startups.
For all their relative obscurity, the young team at Amber has the ambitious goal of becoming the Spotify or Netflix of mobility. They don’t sell cars; they sell access to cars. It sounds like just another car-sharing service, but there’s a twist.
Amber says it can guarantee there is always a car available within walking distance, no matter where you are. And they only do electric.
Using predictive analysis algorithms, Amber’s software platform calculates where its cars will be needed in the next 15 minutes. Then, under the service’s current, initial rollout, it delivers cars to those locations using students as drivers. If a car is not there when you need it, Amber calls you a cab.
The student drivers will not be needed eventually. This is where Amber’s self-driving ambition kicks in. In between rides the cars have to be able to drive themselves to their next users. All that without a human on board and by mid-2018.
In the beginning Amber will let its cars drive themselves only at night when roads are empty. By making nightly miles the cars accumulate data, learn, and become better. Eventually they can self-drive during the day, first on easy back-roads, later in busier traffic.
The startup isn’t breaking a sweat over developing its own self-driving software. Amber is partnering with five different software companies and research institutes, including Nvidia and Microsoft, that have already developed self-driving software.
It may not be state of the art, but Nelemans says it’s good enough.