Engines are revving to get ahead in the race to dominant a giant future market: autonomous mobility. From private ownership and fleets of robotaxis, to logistics chains and smart city transport — driverless tech has the potential to completely uproot business models across the mobility space.
But with tech giants in the likes of Alphabet and Uber already investing heavenly sums to prepare for this emerging opportunity, could new startups compete?
It turns out that in the shadows of these tech behemoths are networks of small, specialized tech firms which are developing the skills and technologies which could be combined to present a genuine challenge.
Small focus, big effect
Disassembled, the self-driving vehicle is a conglomeration of many separate technologies. Aside from the vehicle itself, there are the sensors and cameras which detect its surroundings, the software to process that data, algorithms to calculate routes, make decisions and manage fleets, and the companies which provide the training data for the algorithms to learn how to drive.
Precisely because there are so many different parts and pieces required to build a driverless system, startups can focus on niche parts of this value chain — be it data annotation, route calculation algorithms, or sensors — and license their products to bigger carmakers.
Of course, any single individual firm in this space cannot compete with the firms boasting multi-billion dollar war chests. However, when combined, they could be integrated into unified products or services that could match, or even outperform, those offered by the Googles or Lyfts of the world.
The challenge, then, is for the leading automakers of today — who are currently falling behind on the driverless race, and scrambling to catch up — to identify those best-in-class startups with which to partner and develop mobility products for the future.