Are we there yet? The long-awaited driverless future is gradually taking shape.
Today you can take trips on driverless trains and buses. Sit into a new car, and you’ll find it can make many decisions without you.
Autonomous driving features look set to take over — but funding for the sector in Europe still lags behind the rest of the world, according to Dealroom data. Whether it’s a lingering lack of consumer trust or VCs hitting the brakes, the sector hasn’t taken off like it has in the US.
Still, European startups are working hard to (auto)correct this. One of the young companies attracting interest in the field is Heex Technologies, which we chose as a rising star in our latest Pro briefing on autonomous mobility.
Heex offers a “smart data management platform” to help carmakers sift through the painstakingly collected sea of data required to put autonomous vehicles on the road.
We spoke to Heex cofounder Bruno Mendes Da Silva about the state of autonomous transport in Europe and the trends driving the sector forward.
What made you decide to work in autonomous transport?
“My original focus was on fighting pollution — I first launched an electric vehicle rental service after an academic exchange in Shanghai. [It was then that] I realised there are more problems to mobility than [just] pollution. Human beings are terrible drivers — we listen to music, look at our phones or drive under the influence. Then there’s congestion, insurance [liabilities], parking and all sorts of wider issues.
“Artificial intelligence is a good fix for all of this. It can remove human error, improve safety and smoothe traffic on the roads. We then set out to study the market and launched Heex to fill the data management gap we found.”
What factors are working in the sector’s favour?
“We’re seeing costs of materials drop sharply. Lidar sensors used to cost around €100k — some startups are now pushing it down to €10k, which is good for commercial expansion. Redundancy is what makes AVs [autonomous vehicles] safe — if one component fails to detect something, the next one intervenes — so we need as many cameras, sensors, radars and sonars as possible to make vehicles safer.
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“Then it’s data quality over quantity. Not all data is good data — we’ve mastered data collection and validation, but we need the right tools to apply the insights we receive. Analysing ‘event-based’ data can generate automated pipelines and integrations to scale up the technology.”
How can startups beat established car companies to market?
“It’s not as much about competition as it is about collaboration. Automotive giants manage ‘multi-step customer experiences’ for millions of clients, so they can’t start a project for every problem they encounter. They need specialised partners to fit with their wider manufacturing process — they don’t take care of all individual parts themselves.
“There’s space for startups to partner up and sell hardware and software, build data infrastructure or other vital blocks of autonomous mobility. That’s the scale effect at work, and the reason why automotive companies have VC arms and accelerators to fund their next tier-one suppliers.”
Is self-driving tech ready to hit the road across Europe?
“I don’t think we’re ready yet. There’s a mentality issue in Europe — investors aren’t willing to take risks on the [AV] market but [instead] bet heavy on more familiar sectors. If investors hold back, what about the end user?
“For end users to adopt the technology, carmakers need to switch to software. Tesla really started as a software company but gained trust as an electric vehicle manufacturer, and it’s now worth more than any other European player.
“The next generation won’t care whether the car drives itself or not — they’ll want services that get them from point A to B. Software is the main enabler to this transition.”
Looking for digestible insights on autonomous mobility? Sifted’s Pro briefing on the industry will get you up to speed fast on what you need to know. Click here to see our briefings library or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.