nuTonomy CEO Talks About Expanding Its Test Area, Autonomous ‘Progress,’ and More

  • Emma Sandler
  • March 3, 2017
  • 0

BOSTON — For an inside perspective on autonomous distruption, look no further than nuTonomy.

The Boston-based autonomous vehicle company run by chief executive Karl Iagnemma is developing the first complete solution for providing point-to-point mobility via large fleets of autonomous vehicles, including software for autonomous vehicle navigation in urban environments, smartphone-based ride-hailing, fleet routing and management, and controlling a vehicle remotely through teleoperation. The company’s software has been tested in the U.S., Singapore, and Europe.

While attending the Autonomous Vehicle Summit here Mobility Buzz talked to Iagnemma about where he sees autonomous cars developing, what nuTonomy is working on for the future of its business, as well as how he bought a car for the first time in a decade.

Chief Executive Karl Iagnemma

 

In your piece for Vice, you wrote, “We need to rethink personal car ownership.” It seems that cars aren’t seen any more for the utilitarian thing that they are; it’s more about in-car experiences, how do you see that evolving?

I just recently bought a car for the first time in 10 years, but the one thing I did not look at was the car’s horsepower or torque. I didn’t care at all. I cared much more about connectivity, comfort, safety, driver-assistance; basically intelligence in the car. And that’s where the value is created in cars of the future…But the other thing that intelligence does is create completely new business models where you can envision a fleet of autonomous cars that can take you where you want to go and do it in a way that is incredibly inexpensive, safe, and efficient. So once we reach that point, I think we will find that more and more people will choose to forgo personal car ownership and then instead mobility services and basically consumer transportation as we need it…I’d love to be able to consume transportation in a very efficient and safe and inexpensive way. And I think that is not unique for people living in or near cities around the world.

You also wrote that, “Technology is a force for social change, but not always a force for social progress.” Where do you think autonomous cars fit with that? 

I fully expect it to be both. I think it’s inevitable that it will be both; we certainly hope and encourage the use of shared vehicles as a way to reduce congestion, environmental impact, and the like. But we know that if we can get the technology right, we’ll have created a mode of transportation that is immensely safer than the way we travel today. I mean we lose a million lives around the world every year, more than 40,000 in the U.S alone, due to traffic accidents. So the social good to come from autonomous vehicles–the baseline is massively increased public health, and then the other effects are tremendous as well and they’re there for the taking.

nuTonomy team

NuTonomy recently hired Gretchen Effgen from Zipcar to be the VP of partnerships. How is nuTonomy utilizing her prior experience at Zipcar?

We were really excited to hire Gretchen. She was at the forefront of a kind of new way of thinking about mobility while she was at Zipcar. When Zipcar came to market it was really quite revolutionary…so Gretchen at nuTonomy is helping put the right partnerships in place so that we can provide a great service on the road. We know we can’t do it alone; we’re developing this software but there are other parts of the system involved in hardware, cars, partnerships with other things like companies that will service the cars, provide cloud services and the like. So that’s what Gretchen is doing.

In regards to nuTonomy, you mentioned that you are hoping to expand the fleet in Boston, what else is coming up for you guys?

We are going to be expanding our testing area. We are working with the City of Boston and MassDOT [Massachusetts Department of Transportation] to determine guidelines around that, but nothing is firm in that regard yet; it’s a working progress. Expanding the fleet [is] certainly [a plan], and evolving the maturity level of the testing ground.

Where do you think Boston tech-wise, fits into the drive for autonomous vehicles? It seems like Silicon Valley and Singapore get all the attention.

I think Boston today is sort of a hidden gem, which I think won’t be hidden for much longer, because of the currency in this space right now is talented people. It’s finding the engineers who know how to do this stuff and do it very well and there’s a few regions of the country where those people are congregating. The Boston-area is one of them because of MIT and Harvard and the other local schools and companies like iRobot and other robotics companies that have been here for many years. So I think what we’ll see in the future is more and more transportation companies focusing on New England.

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