Some of the biggest companies in the world are spending billions in the race to develop self-driving vehicles that can go anywhere. Meanwhile, Optimus Ride, a startup from MIT is already helping people get around by taking a different approach.
The company’s autonomous vehicles only drive in areas it comprehensively maps, or geofences. Self-driving vehicles can safely move through these areas at about 25 miles per hour with today’s technology.
“It’s important to realise there are multiple approaches, and multiple markets, to self-driving,” said Optimus Ride CEO Ryan Chin. “There’s no monolithic George Jetson kind of self-driving vehicle. You have robot trucks, you have self-driving taxis, self-driving pizza delivery machines, and each of these will have different time frames of technological development and different markets.”
By partnering with developers, the Optimus team is currently focused on deploying its vehicles in communities with residential and commercial buildings, retirement communities, corporate and university campuses, airports, resorts and smart cities. The founders estimate the combined value of transportation services in those markets to be over US$600 billion.
“We believe this is an important, huge business, but we also believe this is the first addressable market in the sense that we believe the first autonomous vehicles that will generate profits and make business sense will appear in these environments, because you can build the tech much more quickly,” added Chin, who co-founded the company with Albert Huang, Jenny Larios Berlin, Ramiro Almeida, and Class of 1948 Career Development Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics Sertac Karaman.
Optimus Ride currently runs fleets of self-driving vehicles in the Seaport area of Boston, in a mixed-use development in South Weymouth, Massachusetts, and, as of this week, in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300 acre industrial park that now hosts the first self-driving vehicle program in the state.
Later this year, the company will also deploy its autonomous vehicles in a private community of Fairfield, California, and in a mixed-use development in Reston, Virginia.
The early progress — and the valuable data that come with it — is the result of the company taking a holistic view of transportation.