Building the organization to design, and operate the robots that will move us
Big companies do a fantastic job inventing magical new products. Apple and Samsung put out amazing consumer electronics, Airbus and Boeing continue innovating on aircraft, and Amazon keeps making it easier for us to get what we want. Sometimes, the heavyweights are not equipped to adopt novel businesses made possible by nascent technology. In fact, it’s this dislocation that led to the creation of a few of the iconic companies mentioned above, and will be the basis of tomorrow’s great companies-to-be.
Autonomous cars present a new opportunity that car companies are neither equipped nor incentivized to embrace, thus requiring a new type of company. Zoox is positioning itself to dominate this trillion-dollar opportunity. To better understand the root of this opportunity, one must distinguish “driver-assistance” from “driverless:”
“Driver-assistance” puts the emphasis on the driver, who is ultimately responsible for herself, passengers, and passer-byes. This paradigm is conducive to the century-old businesses producing, selling, financing, servicing, and insuring cars. Existing automakers can, and will continue to lessen the cognitive load and increase the comfort of the driver with spectacular features ie, adaptive cruise control, Autopilot, self-parking, etc.
In contrast, “Driverless” puts responsibility into the hands of the car, which carries different implications for the manufacturer of the vehicle. “Driverless” also warrants a new player: the “operator” similar to an airline or charter that operates aircraft. “Driverless” also raises the need for new rules for determining whether the vehicles are safe, and what to do in the improbable, though possible event of an accident.
“Driverless” also requires one to re-think the car itself. Henry Ford and the Dodge Brothers popularized the modern vehicle design with the intent of everyone earning a wage to afford one. However, “driverless” put cars in the same category as buses, planes, and vacation homes; we don’t need to own them so long as we can use them. “Driverless” car companies will not be measured against how quickly they put metal and plastic together; they are measured against how, and how much they move people. “Driverless” cars will be offered by fleet operators, direct to consumers. They will design the robots, oversee their production, architect the geofences where they operate, maintain them, and ensure forgettable (safe), yet unforgettable (magical) experiences.
We were fortunate to meet Zoox’s cofounders Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson in a remodeled firehouse on SLAC in the Summer of 2015. They shared their plan to reinvent the automobile from scratch towards offering a robotaxi service direct to consumers. They shared the blueprint of the new organization required to deliver on this vision. They introduced us to the leadership that would build the components of this novel structure: sensor design, vehicle design, perception, prediction, planning, ride operations, and other key elements of the business that will usher humanity into its autonomous future.
We’re delighted to see the team grow to many hundreds of employees now operating a fleet of test vehicles autonomously in the streets and highways of one of the densest, busiest metros of the world. They are building out the requisite infrastructure for operating scores of these robots. They are finalizing the design of their vehicle with global manufacturing partners to produce them. They are working with regulators to help them better understand how this technology could save lives from the hands of human drivers.
There are still many roadblocks ahead: When will the public to be convinced that these vehicles are safer than human drivers? When will regulators be convinced that the public is convinced? How will the public respond to the inevitable accident? If any company is built to blaze this chapter of humanity it’s the phenomenal talent at Zoox.
We’re delighted to be partnered and continue to invest with Zoox, most recently in it’s Series B financing where we welcome several new amazing investors. Buckle up!