Driverless vehicles are becoming mainstream, in part thanks to rapid advancements in artificial intelligence. More companies are now vying to add the technology to larger vehicles, including mass transit. One company in this space is Oxa.
While attending Google Cloud Next in San Francisco, Oxa officials told Decrypt about the company vision for autonomous transportation—working with fellow transportation tech firm Beep and using Google Cloud’s suite of tools.
“Our job in all of that is to provide the software capability that controls Beep’s fleet of vehicles, such that they can safely move people to and fro on their daily routes to work and leisure,” Oxa CEO Gavin Jackson told Decrypt in an interview.
Last week, U.K-based Oxa announced a deal with autonomous shuttle developer Beep to bring Oxa’s technology to the United States, starting with a fleet of autonomous and electric shuttles in Florida with the potential rollout to other locations services already serviced by Beep including California, and North Carolina.
Initially launched in 2014 as Oxbotica, the company raised $140 million in Series C funding in January with investments from Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Ltd, ENEOS Innovation Partners, BP ventures, and others.
One of the problems Oxa aims to solve is the congestion caused by many single-occupancy vehicles on the roads. The company says it hopes to make urban transit more efficient and sustainable by using autonomous shuttles and buses.
Oxa CTO and President Paul Newman said his firm is focusing on making the highways less congested, adding that autonomous single-driver cars, in his opinion, won’t alleviate the congestion problem facing major cities today.
“We don’t necessarily think that the application of autonomy being applied to single occupancy, personal cars, or Uber-like robotaxis, is going to dramatically improve things but eventually make things worse,” Newman said. “I don’t think it’s going to be better for society overall.”
Computer scientists have been working on autonomous vehicles since the 1980s when a team in Munich, Germany, designed a robotic Mercedes-Benz van, and in the U.S., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency or DARPA funded projects involving multiple institutions to advance autonomous vehicle technology.
Today, the number of driverless car manufacturers continues to grow, with companies including Tesla, General Motors, Ford, and Volkswagen working on bringing self-driving cars to the market.
“The stance that we tried to take is to treat regulators almost like co-founders—they’re a partner in enabling the technology to move forward,” Newman said, noting that Oxa has worked with regulators from the company’s inception. “I think that it’s extremely important for the social contract,” he said.
These assurance and safety, Jackson said, are a part of being transparent.
“I think that’s extremely important, and I like the idea of being open with regulators who are thinking this through because it’s hard,” he said. “I think that’s extremely important. I can’t stress that enough.”
Civilian vehicles aren’t the only area where AI is having an impact. Governments are also looking for ways to leverage the technology. On Monday, Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks unveiled the Pentagon’s new Replicator initiative, which aims to “field attritable autonomous systems at scale of multiple thousands, in multiple domains, within the next 18 to 24 months.” In July, meanwhile, U.S. defense company Kratos Defense saw it AI-piloted fighter jet, the XQ-58A Valkyrie, complete its most recent successful flight.