On Tuesday afternoon, before a packed house at the Detroit Institute of Art’s film theatre, 11 startups just finishing a summer stint in the Techstars Mobility accelerator program took to the stage to talk more about what their companies were developing.
Company founders pitched to a crowd of investors, entrepreneurs, automotive and tech executives, and other interested parties. The startups in the 2018 program, which seeks to advance innovations pertaining to the movement of things and people, run the mobility gamut—ridesharing, fleet management, navigation, “Waze for bikes,” drones, new ways to travel, and even novel approaches to autonomy itself.
While the path to getting autonomous vehicles to market is still full of unknowns—and even within the industry, there isn’t uniform agreement on exactly when and how that might happen—there are plenty of transportation innovations ready to be commercialized before self-driving cars are ready for prime time, and that was on display Tuesday.
“Our fourth Techstars Mobility demo day blew away my expectations,” says Ted Serbinski, the program’s managing director. “The teams performed exceptionally well and the response from the community was phenomenal. With over 1,000 attendees for a fourth year in a row, it’s wonderful to see this event being a landmark event for the startup community.”
Here’s a little more about each of the companies presenting Tuesday, with progress updates if available. To replay the livestream of the event, click here; to see the day’s events unfold on social media, search #TSMobility or #TSDemoDay. We’ve also included a slideshow detailing some of the more notable milestones achieved by Techstars Mobility alumni since leaving the program.
—Aerotronic (Indianapolis): Aerotronic makes single-rotor, unmanned autonomous drones. CEO and co-founder Chris Chance says Aerotronic drones don’t need a landing structure to operate and can be used for long-distance applications such as inspecting a large gas pipeline. (When we caught up in September, Chance said he planned to take a drone to North Carolina to inspect hurricane damage, and was considering creating a predictive model for California wildfires, where he thinks Aerotronic drones could also be useful.) The drones also have infrastructure, mapping, first responder, and military applications. The company’s lead product, Dauntless, is made with advanced composite materials and uses lithium polymer batteries.
—Autobon (Chicago): Autobon AI is the maker of an autopilot system for fleet vehicles that is powered by artificial intelligence. Autobon, led by a father-and-son team, is the second Techstars Mobility startup to be co-founded by a parent and child. (Last year’s class included Seeva, Jere and Diane Lansinger’s company; see slideshow for an update.) At demo day, the company announced a new collaboration with Best Dedicated Solutions as it tests a route between Detroit and Chicago.
—DeepHow (New York and Detroit): DeepHow uses AI and wearable devices to transform dense technical manuals for servicing industrial machines into interactive, step-by-step instructions. The enterprise system includes an on-demand remote expert to provide assistance. At demo day, DeepHow announced a partnership with Ford and plans to relocate its headquarters to Detroit.
—Driver Technologies (New York and Detroit): Part dash cam and part alert system, the free Driver mobile app allows mounted smartphones to record videos of trips. Co-founder Marcus Newbury says the product is designed for those driving professionally for companies like Lyft and Uber. “Drivers want to protect themselves from customer complaints,” he adds. “The camera works as a deterrent—it’s no longer the driver’s word against the customer’s.” Driver also provides collision warnings (vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists) and allows users to pay a fee to save back-up recordings to the cloud.
But Newbury says he sees another opportunity for Driver: to help companies developing autonomous technologies. “We can take the data we collect, anonymize it, and resell it to companies that need AV training data,” he says. Driver is also seeking to partner with Nigerian company Max, which Newbury describes as “Uber meets Postmates” in Africa.
—Humanising Autonomy (London, UK): Predicting the behavior of pedestrians is one of the hardest challenges to solve in the development of driverless cars. The reason? Maya Pindeus, co-founder and CEO, says autonomous vehicles are “terrible at understanding what people are doing in the street.” Humanising Autonomy’s software analyzes the human behavior as well as camera and sensor data to help AVs predict what pedestrians will do, she explains. “Our focus is on crowded cities because certain actions mean different things in different cities.” (An extended middle finger might be interpreted as an angry gesture in one city, or a harmless one in others, for example.)
So far, the company has studied pedestrian behavior in New York City, London, Tokyo, and Mumbai to inform its software, and has tested the system in crowded downtown areas in Detroit and London. Pindeus says the nine-person company is working on its first product integration with Daimler in Germany, and it announced a partnership at demo day with TheRide, the city of Ann Arbor’s transportation authority.
—IntelliTire (San Francisco): IntelliTire is developing “smart” tires that the company says provides actionable insights on tire health through machine learning technology and an integrated sensor.
Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or firstname.lastname@example.org.