Faction Technology, Inc is creating three-wheel electric vehicles sized for short self-driving 3-5 mile trips. Ain McKendrick, CEO of Faction, explains how its combination of digital vehicles with driverless AI, backed by teleoperation can deliver micro-logistics and rides-on-demand.
McKendrick has been on the leading edge of technology for most of his career in technology, seeing the importance of the contribution of software in creating products.
He was in on the Palm Pilot, Handspring, Tivo and Netflix products. He developed a smart motorcycle helmet. He also developed self-driving electric vehicle systems for Cyngn. He was the vice president of engineering for the first autonomous trucking company to drive on public highways without a person on board Starsky Robots. At Faction, he’s tackling a single faction of the self-driving mobility space.
The California-based start-up recently completed $4.3M in seed funding led by Trucks Venture Capital and Fifty Years, adding to a previous investment by Y Combinator and participation in its Winter 2021 start-up batch.
“My background is in computer science. I am combining that with energy efficiency, safety and service to make a compelling product,” says McKendrick.
When he commuted on a motorcycle, he was always able to make it to work in 45 minutes. However, commuting in a car could take him hours. The three-wheel Faction vehicles are classified as motorcycles, which cost a fraction of the cost of typical automobiles.
“Smaller vehicles are the key to alleviating the ever-growing problem of urban gridlock,” says McKendrick.
Driverless – Not Autonomous
“We are at the point where 100% of autonomy is not possible at this moment. Driverless is possible with teleoperation,” says McKendrick.
The Faction vehicles are not fully autonomous. Autonomous driving AI is backed by teleoperation. The AI is task-designed with specific patterning to know when a vehicle needs help from teleoperation, says McKendrick.
A teleoperator can make decisions faster than complex AI algorithms.
The software is also designed for just pushing a button on a keypad for decisions. It is not like driving a car with a steering wheel. Each one of those buttons is designed for a path on what to do in a situation, says McKendrick.
He aims to have teleoperation centres with multiple drivers and management that can deal with all situations. There will be different centres in different parts of the country for the specific cities.
Prototype Light Vehicle Expected Specs
The first prototypes will either be seatless for cargo delivery or single-seaters for ride delivery.
“In the United States, we are not used to small three-wheel vehicles,” says McKendrick, “For America, the three-wheel vehicles have to be specifically designed. I am six feet tall and fit comfortably in a Faction.”
The first prototype vehicle is called the T1 with three wheels and a chassis. It will have a 12 KW battery and weigh about a thousand pounds. In regular full-size vehicles 80% of the energy is used to move the vehicle while in three-wheel vehicles only 50% of the energy moves the vehicle, says McKendrick.
Faction vehicles are equipped with GPS, radar and ultrasonic sensors
The vehicles will have a real-time operating system, safety and hardware. The customer will have an audio and visual experience. The product will offer fleet management software.
“Like all vehicle makers, we are affected by the chip shortage,” says McKendrick.
“I tell my people that if you if you think you are going to need something in a few weeks order it now.”
For on-demand rides, the vehicle will be delivered to the client without a driver. Then the client can get in and drive.
There will be delivery points designated for safe pickups.
Single 30-Minute Cost-Effective Deliveries
When talking to companies that need 30-minute delivery for food, they complain that the current services are not working. Often drivers will pick up other deliveries before reaching the customer. A bakery told McKendrick that, most of the time, when cupcakes are delivered – one is missing. The software will notify the customer where the vehicle is. Then notify the customer when nearby to come out and get their delivery.
“We joke that a Faction will not eat your french fries,” says McKendrick.
“I am confident we are positioned to safely deliver, be profitable and less expensive than alternatives on the road. We are cost-effective and more consistent than the present 30-minute delivery services,” says McKendrick.
The Future of Faction
The headquarters of Faction is located in South San Francisco, California. However, McKendrick likes the states that are open to trial its products in states, such as Texas, Florida or Arizona, that are more supportive of driverless technology.
“We do not want to be an OEM. We do want safety. What we are planning on doing is to create a three-wheel vehicle that is cost-effective. We will be looking for partners with OEMs later. First, we are developing a prototype. Later an OEM can come in and use what we have learned for other vehicles,” says McKendrick.