Present at CES, the COO of the French specialist in autonomous vehicles presented its latest: Autonomy Cab. He tells us more about his ambitions in a very competitive market.
JDN. You present, at CES, Autonomy Cab, your autonomous taxi concept available on demand. Can you describe this vehicle, launched with one of your Keolis shareholders?
Christian Le Borgne (Navya). Autonomy Cab is a taxi that can accommodate up to 6 people and pick you up at a point you have defined within a dedicated mobile application. Once the vehicle has detected you, you open the door and give the start from the application.
On board, the experience is the most pleasant possible with bulk the possibility for passengers to enjoy an interactive tour of a city, order movie tickets or compose a music playlist. On the technical level, it is a vehicle equipped with about twenty sensors that ensure its smooth operation and can travel up to 90 km / h.
Your first line of products consisted of autonomous shuttle fleets that operate on predefined routes within closed fleets. Do you take a big turn with Autonomy Cab?
Rather than turning, I would speak of natural evolution because it is a service that we launched all the more easily that we were able to rely on the feedback from the 60 shuttles that turn today in the world. So many experiments that feed one way or another the algorithmic models of our new autonomous taxis on everything that concerns the control of a physical environment, a much more complicated subject when “going out” of journeys predefined. I’m thinking of everything related to the mapping of a space or the detection of obstacles (and their circumvention) for example.
The term natural evolution is all the more appropriate as we could very well endow our shuttles with an application system similar to the one that accompanies our taxis. Rather than changing them on a predefined course, we could let two or three run on a given sector. It’s in reflection.
Which market are you targeting with your Autonomy Cab? Industrial parks and private areas as it is already the case for your shuttles, unable to attack you yet to the road?
We do hope to deploy such vehicles on closed sites or on open roads when we obtain exemptions. We work with our colleagues to move the regulations but remain pragmatic, the first commercial opportunities are rather on the side of private areas, university campuses or industrial sites. Our system of autonomous taxis will be able to replace there advantageously the systems of VTC which sometimes have courses there. Simply because, without a driver on board, they allow a saving of 30 to 60% (the cost of the driver) compared to a VTC.
We already have full-scale experimentation projects planned in France, Paris and possibly Lyon, by the end of the first half of 2018. The objective is to put 40 to 60 Autonomy Cabs on the market by the end of 2018 Our partner Kéolis has already ordered 10 – 5 for France and 5 for the United States. In the same way, another partner, Australian this one, the Kingdom Automobile Club, engaged on 10 vehicles.
First an autonomous shuttle than an autonomous taxi. Soon an autonomous car?
This is absolutely not on the agenda as we want to promote shared transport, which is a real issue at the time of the smart city and while the problem of urban congestion poses itself. What is the interest of an individual to have an autonomous vehicle while the rate of use of a vehicle is around 20%, mainly for commuting? Especially since immobilizing the vehicle costs the user as well as the company. It is towards this logic of use rather than the possession that we want to accompany the individual with a partner like Keolis.
Our competitors’ manufacturers, whose DNA is to sell a vehicle, probably think differently. But I’m sure they too are aware of the revolution that is looming and we see some also invest in digital platforms or leasing specialists to anticipate the end of this model of the car.
Last November, you raised 30 million euros, mainly from Keolis (a subsidiary of SNCF) and the French automotive supplier Valeo. Where are you?
We are already working on a new exercise of 50 to 60 million euros. It will enable our company, which will have 200 employees by the end of the month, to continue to finance its investments in R & D the time we reach let us know the profitability by 2020. This money will allow the optimization and the accomplishment of our technology by the putting on the market for more autonomous shuttles and taxis. A real virtuous circle. You already have two big manufacturers at your capital. We imagine that the new capital partner could be an American fund that would allow you to accelerate your development across the Atlantic?
“Our company will have 200 employees by the end of the month”
There are some thoughts on that, but I can not tell you more for the moment. Seeing actors much smaller than us, specialized only in software, manage to raise 250 to 300 million dollars in the United States, with a snap of a finger, obviously gives us ideas. But it would also be to risk diluting our historic shareholders even though we are proud to have essentially French capital. Hence the more reasonable amounts I mentioned above.
Also, the acceleration in the US market does not necessarily mean the arrival of a US fund as we already have a strong anchor in this market with our assembly plant in Michigan and the commercial presence of Keolis on American soil. And I would add that the question of the origin of the financing could also arise for the Chinese market where there is an appetite for our products.