When Cars Talk to Each Other: Will V2V and V2X Startups Take Off?

Even with Google, Tesla, Mercedes, Audi and other large corporations sinking billions into developing self-driving cars, it may be decades before fully autonomous vehicles roam the streets. Due to regulatory and safety concerns, driverless cars are still years from widespread commercial development. But what many people don’t realize is that cars are already partly autonomous, and are becoming more so every day. It started with windshield wipers and headlights that would activate automatically, continued to critical safety systems like anti-lock brakes where we rely on microchips and actuators to pump our brakes hundreds of times per second to increase stopping power and control. Finally, assisted cruise control systems are becoming standard equipment on many models. These systems use radar and other technologies to maintain safe following distance. All these systems rely on cars acting more like computers, sensing environmental conditions, deciding on actions to be taken and sending signals to in-vehicle systems to implement those decisions.

As the car migrates to an advanced computing platform, startups are working in partnership with large automotive players to launch even more advanced systems. Vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2X) technologies enable cars to not only talk to each other, but to communicate with fixed infrastructure, for safety, fleet management, efficiency, and other applications. These two technologies, made possible by the Internet of Things (IoT) — where tiny, embedded devices communicate with each other over wireless networks — are being commercialized in consumer cars and commercial trucks today. MIT Technology Review recently called V2V one the Top 10 Breakthrough Technologies of 2015, and investors are beginning to see the potential for significant near- and long-term returns for V2V and V2X.

The DOT, which recently launched a widescale V2V pilot program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, clearly has high hopes for V2V. “The vision for V2V is that, eventually, each vehicle on the roadway (automobiles, trucks, buses, motor coaches, and motorcycles) will be able to communicate with other vehicles, and this rich set of data will support a new generation of active safety applications able to assist drivers in preventing 76% of typical crashes,” says the DOT.

Much of the underlying development is happening within large corporations, from tech companies Google and Apple, to automakers like Tesla, Mercedes, Toyota and Volvo, to OEMs like Bosch, Continental Automotive and Magna International. However, as an investor, I see more and more innovative startups emerging to claim a piece of the fast-growing “V2” and autonomous vehicle pies. Some of these companies include AutoTalks, Peloton Technology, Nauto, BestMile, Quanergy and Cruise. Earlier generation connected car startups like MobileEye and Cohda are now established public companies.

I’m bullish on the V2V and autonomous sectors due to the potential these technologies have to improve not just vehicle safety, but also fuel efficiency, fleet management and logistics, parking, traffic flow, insurance, mapping, and more. For example, Peloton uses V2V and LTE technology to intelligently connect fleets of 18-wheelers to the cloud and to each other. Their technology enables speed, braking, and other control information to be immediately shared so that trucks can form “platoons” that can safely travel at close distances down the highway. Reducing following distance in this way has been shown to improve the fuel efficiency of both the lead and the following vehicle and can save fleet and trucking companies up to 10% in fuel costs, as well as improve overall safety records.

Other areas that are seeing increased activity involve the intense sensing, mapping and information synthesis required to implement autonomous and V2V applications. We’re seeing significant advances in the performance and cost profiles for LIDAR systems, as well as advances in high-definition mapping applications. More advanced and dynamic maps that provide lane-by-lane information and can track road and weather conditions as well as construction events will be needed. Vehicles generate enormous amounts of data that need to be transferred, processed, and correlated across fleets. I am excited about the opportunities this creates for high-resolution sensing data and the application of machine learning to synthesize and make sense of this information across a nationwide fleet of what are essentially moving sensors. The results could power other classes of services including highly-granular weather, traffic, and road hazard services.

In short, I am excited about by the promise of sensing, connectivity, and intelligence to enable powerful new V2V and V2X use cases. This is a space we’ll be watching closely.