Robo-car Early-Birds Flock Together

Article By : Junko Yoshida

Those who came to a small automated vehicle event ranged from a former Microsoft executive to a simulation expert and a startup in Silicon Valley, illustrating the changing balance of power and new constituents in the mobility ecosystem.

ST. LOUIS PARK, Minn. — Marketers and engineers go to the Frankfurt Motor Show and Consumer Electronics Show partly for a glimpse of glitz and glamour. There’s no better place than a big trade show to peek at the potential of an emerging market like that of autonomous vehicles (AV). 

But if a small media event held here last week by VSI Labs — a boutique automotive technology research and consulting company — was any indication, domain experts from the tech industry, academia and local legislators — 100 curiosity-seekers in all — are still avid for AV insights. Many were interested in AV stacks under the hood, and also in the social impact of self-driving cars in the world’s most car-crazy culture.

The gathering occurred here Friday (Sept. 8) in a garage where VSI Labs’ engineering team tests the building blocks for autonomous vehicle and builds its own test-focused autonomous car.

The guests ranged from a former Microsoft executive to a simulation tool expert and a yet-to-be-fully disclosed tech startup in Silicon Valley.

Phil Magney, founder of VSI Labs, said that Friday’s event illustrated the “changing balance of power” in the new field of automated vehicles (no longer dominated by big auto), while proving that “the ecosystem of new mobility has many new constituents.”

Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor at VSI Labs (Photo: EE Times)

Phil Magney, founder and principal advisor at VSI Labs (Photo: EE Times)

Many attendees came to look deeper into AV technologies, size up VSI Labs’ findings, and learn what information and services VSI Labs could offer.

In the following pages, EE Times thumbnails a few VSI discoveries, what we overheard at the event, and brief interviews with a few of the movers and shakers in the autonomy world. 

Renovo works on APIs
The presence of Damien Scott, chief commercial officer at Renovo, was a clue that some of Silicon Valley’s best and brightest are tuned into self-driving cars not just for developing in-vehicle software, but to develop the underlying software abstraction layers necessary to connecting a variety of AVs within big data infrastructure. Renovo calls its objective an “automated mobility on demand system.”

Renovo's Damien Scott

Renovo’s Damien Scott

Although details of its activities remain sketchy, Scott explained, “We’re developing abstraction layers so that automated vehicles can effectively connect with communication infrastructure” for data analytics. Verizon Venture, for example, one of the big investors of Renovo which raised $10 million in May.

Asked if Renovo is indeed developing an operating system for autonomous cars, Scott demurred. “The word OS comes with so much baggage,” he told us.  However, Scott acknowledged that the abstraction layers Renovo is developing for AVs are “somewhat similar to what Android is to smartphones today.” He added, “Our software makes API calls to the underlying operating system, such as Linux, for example, that might be used by autonomous vehicles.”

Renovo, founded in 2010 by Christopher Heiser, CEO, and Jason Stinson, CTO, is indeed a pure product of Silicon Valley engineering talent. Heiser cut his teeth at LightSurf, contributing to early camera phone designs. Stinton was a principal engineer at Intel, where he helped develop Pentium chips (and fixed its bugs). 

Renovo hopes to bring its automated mobility-on-demand systems to scale, with a goal to deploy its technology across vehicles, fleets and the cloud.

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