Oxford is world famous for its university alumni who include among their number 27 British prime ministers, 50 Nobel prize winners and of course the physicist Professor Steven Hawking as well as the inventor of the world wide web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee.
Oxford, known as the ‘city of dreaming spires’, may soon be famous for another reason. It’s gaining a reputation as a hotbed for development in artificial intelligence and autonomous driving.
One start-up, based in the city, that’s making waves in this space is StreetDrone. It builds the systems that allow self-driving software to safely drive cars. “For us the Oxford area provides us with access to a lot of automotive expertise…so being able to find both experts and suppliers that can supply us is essential,” Mike Potts, the Founder and CEO of StreetDrone told Auto Futures.
Potts describes what the initial idea was for StreetDrone. “We wanted to take advantage of our experience in automotive and Formula 1, and our interest in future mobility. We knew that the teams that are developing tomorrow’s mobility applications aren’t experts in automotive technologies (i.e. the control and safety systems that are critical to vehicles) and that we could really help those companies making big strides in testing and development by providing the vehicles to allow them to test in the real world.”
He adds: “We’ve continued this mission, enabling the acceleration of maturity of autonomous technology by providing a platform that can be the interface to any vehicle.”
The company likes to practice what it preaches. It’s built its software into a Renault Twizy. The StreetDrone Twizy is an autonomous-ready EV and can be used for R&D. The message on the side of the vehicle says it all – ‘Autonomous Ready: Bring your own AI’.
“We’ve built in our platform called XenOS which now provides full drive-by-wire, state of the art functional safety and connectivity to cloud-based applications. It is being used by our customers to test and validate all kinds of autonomous software.”
Potts says one of the most exciting usage of the StreetDrone Twizy Perhaps has been by Wayve, a self-driving start-up based in the rival university city of Cambridge. It’s benefited from the interaction between vehicle, the test driver and their software system. StreetDrone built in the sensors and computer technology. Wayve added its own self-driving technology.
The StreetDrone Twizy is also being used for educational purposes. “Our educational customers are using our platform to teach, test and validate software and hardware in the real world. Many universities are already using simulators to test self-driving systems and hardware. But, to be able to validate these simulations, using our technology is critical to the development and learning process.”
The company is one of the founding members of the AutoWare Foundation, a group of collaborators working on developing open source self-driving technology, and this is partly AI based research and development. However, its XenOS system isn’t actually using AI.
Potts explains: “In fact that is an essential element of autonomous vehicle safety. Providing a ‘rules based’ i.e. non AI system to do safety aspects means that the AI part of the stack can be checked to make sure that it’s not asking the vehicle to do anything that might not be safe.”
Potts told us that he expects robo-taxis to take over the world of personal transportation. He forecasts that over 50% of passenger miles in the U.S. and Europe will be spent in autonomous, EVs. “This is tremendously exciting as it completely changes the way people will travel, leading to lower transport costs, better safety and a much lower environmental impact within cities.”
So what’s next for StreetDrone? “We are currently engineering XenOS into a Renault Zoe, a vehicle suitable for many more applications and use cases than the Twizy. There will be a considerable growth in services like robo-taxis in the next few years and electric vehicles such as this will fulfil the need for safe autonomous-ready vehicles for those players,” says Potts.
His company is now entering a second round of funding and is currently looking for investors.