Kyle Vogt: Driverless Cars for All
The future of driving is automated. The only question is: Which company will bring the first driverless car to your doorstep? Cruise Automation has an advantage that no self-driving startup can match: the industrial might of the world's third-largest automaker. General Motors bought Cruise for more than $1 billion in 2016. In September of this year, GM announced production of autonomous Chevy Bolts. But 32-year-old Cruise founder Kyle Vogt admits that the marriage between a disruptive startup and a Big Three carmaker has not been smooth: "Engineers in Silicon Valley think you can whip up software over a weekend to do just about anything. But you can't whip up an automotive assembly plant. I'm guilty of underestimating the challenge."
Vogt founded Cruise in 2013 – after his previous startup, Twitch ("the ESPN of gaming"), was bought by Amazon for almost $1 billion. For Vogt, Cruise was a return to a boyhood passion. "I got obsessed with robots at a young age," he says. He competed on BattleBots in his teens, and at MIT he took part in a contest to send a driverless truck through the desert. He founded Cruise when struck by the epiphany that "technology had caught up" to his dream for a driverless future. He adds, "It's the coolest thing I could possibly do as an engineer."
Today, Cruise has deployed a fleet of 130 cars. The company's automation technology relies on a diverse mix of sensors – lasers, radios and cameras – to create a digitized "view" of traffic. "You wind up with a really vivid picture of the world," Vogt says. Cruise cars also benefit from the "hive mind" of its networked fleet: "When one car sees a construction zone, all of the cars have that information. It's as if that car can see around corners."
The biggest promise of automated driving is that it can prevent accidents and save "millions of lives," Vogt says. "Self-driving cars have no blind spots." Eventually, Cruise will deliver "superhuman performance." So will a kid who is 10 years old today never need a driver's license? Says Vogt, "That's very likely." TD