Hello everyone! Oliver, the CEO of Voyage and YC alum (2011) here.
I got started in the self-driving car world as a member of the team that built Udacity's self-driving car curriculum, and also an open source self-driving car. This industry is crazy fun and moving ridiculously fast.
Let me know if I can answer any questions at all about absolutely anything.
We're really excited about bringing Level-4 transportation to the world, but especially so at places like The Villages, Florida. Whether it’s helping those with Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, vision impairment, or just those who want to get around with less friction, we’ve seen first-hand the positive impact autonomous transportation can have for seniors.
This was what Google was thinking for their little 25MPH bubble car. The one they discontinued in 2016. The great thing about a 25MPH speed limit is that slamming on the brakes deals with most problems. You don't have a stopping distance long enough that you have to steer out of them.
Good idea, still too expensive per unit. Votage has a huge upfront cost spread over very few cars. Plus human drivers, which means "it doesn't really work yet". This is a "can we get market share before the money runs out" play. It worked for Uber. Things like this will be in retirement communities everywhere around 2025, once the sensors are in volume manufacture and cheap.
When I was working on self-driving (2005 Grand Challenge) I saw two initial use cases - this one, and airport rental car pick-up and return. Both require only slow-speed driving in reasonably controlled environments, something which can be made to work. Neither is yet economically feasible.
I think this business model has a far greater chance of succeeding than something like Tesla's. It's easier to just focus on a small averagely populated area than high density urban cities or in Tesla's case, the entire country. It's safer to deal with construction/road issues, unique quirks present of each city when you're only focusing on one community at a time.
It's far less of a headache dealing with one set of regulations for a community that has few, impressionable decisionmakers than trying to scale while trying to meet ever-changing individual regulations from each state/city and an uncertain national landscape. Only Google and the big automakers have the available influence to push for federal regulation standards and even those can be scrapped if some major incident happens or morons refuse to follow proper safety protocols to chase profits (uber).
If Tesla pushes level 4 or 5 autonomy, they need to consider every circumstance (rain, snow, dust storms, tornadoes, ice, and so many other random unique Mother Nature quirks), every road construction issue, hazards, fallen trees etc. all at once. It just isn't feasible. You need city employees to report fallen trees, garbage truck routes, area with frequent deer or animal crossings etc. They can't just say it's autonomous in one particular area where maybe only 100 Teslas are present, it's just not economical.
I think this route of small community adaptation is the most likely and it's great to see most players shift to this model. This means that automakers aren't going to be the big players in this space for another decade or so. It's not economical for big beuracratic, slow moving businesses like Ford to enter into this landscape. Small companies and startups pushing into this has its advantages and disadvantages however.
Especially if there are serious competitors in this space, governments could enact laws that speed up safety requirements (and maybe speed up innovation too).
One thought: Governments could force driverless companies to share their data, in some inter-operable format (think a 3D map, or 6D if you had speed information?) that could be read by other cars nearby. For instance if there is a stroller with a baby in front of the car in front of you, or if an accident happened in the street you are about to enter, you would be able to read it from the information emitted from cars that are closer to the danger/obstacle. Current technologies allow this. My guess is that sensors will gain substantially in terms of robustness. (Imagine what you can do with one set of lidar/thermocamera/visial cameras; now imagine what you can do with data from 10 of these sets from different locations!)
Smaller players (such as Voyage, although it seems you got there far already!) would probably benefit from this and it would benefit competition/innovation. Governments would likely be happy to force this into law because if it makes sense for safety.
Anyway, congrats for the real-life launch
I haven't heard of Voyage before, but this is interesting.
Would it be accurate to summarize that while most autonomous car companies are going for gradually higher levels of autonomy nationwide/worldwide, Voyage has the opposite strategy of starting at a higher level of autonomy in one controlled community and will aim to expand geographically from there?
With a human behind the wheel, with hands off? Or are they really launching with nobody in the vehicle?
"Beginning in early 2018, we’ll start rolling out a door-to-door self-driving taxi service to residents."
Now? Isn't that a bit optimistic? To me it looks like they have just one car for testing. At least they understand that they need the environment mapped to a very fine degree.
Pretty cool idea to go to private, well constrained areas so that it scopes down the problem and allows for quick iteration. Good luck! Excited to see autonomous vehicles in these environments.
This sounds really a great project. Good luck.
I wonder there was any consideration given to just adding automnomy as a module to the golf-carts that are currently widely used in these communities. It seems that could allow for faster deployment, lower legal barriers and lower capital investment.
The autonomous vehicles in Black Mirror's recent Hang the DJ fits this concept.
I had no idea that retirement communities could grow to the size of cities. This place is amazing  . Peter Thiel and Y Combinator talk about building cities or planned communities, but it looks like it's already been done. And now they're adding fully autonomous vehicles. I think this is also the perfect place to test fully automated grocery stores, restaurants, and home automation. You could set up automatic payments for everything via facial recognition / GPS / bluetooth. I never considered that the "city of the future" would be a retirement community with lots of elderly people.
I wonder if they have security cameras covering every street, similar to the UK. You could set up some facial tracking across all the cameras, and a centralized security system in every house, and it might become the safest city in the world. It could also make a great episode of Black Mirror.
I work remotely on my laptop, and my wife and I have a lot of hobbies, including yoga, ballet, archery, art, music . We're living in Chiang Mai, and many of the archery club members are retirees from the UK. So we're already interacting out with some older people, and don't have any qualms about it. All residents of The Villages must be over the age of 19, but 20% of the houses can be owned by younger people who live by themselves. Not saying we would want to live there, but it's not too hard to imagine.
This would also be a great place to build home automation startups (or even city automation), just like Voyage is doing. For example, many of the residents might be able to afford robotic chefs . The system could automatically order your groceries, and they'd be delivered by a self-driving Voyage car. Then another robot in your house could receive the delivery and store the food in your smart refrigerator.
It also makes me realize that a blockchain might be unnecessary. You trust your neighbors, you trust the people who manage the community, and you trust the legal system, lawyers, judges, and prisons. So there's probably no need for a trustless payment network in a community like this. The Octopus card works fine in Hong Kong, and it's just integers in a database.
Lots of people are working from home these days, so I think this might lead to more planned communities. The digital nomad lifestyle is great for a while, but it gets exhausting after a few years. Hopefully there will some communities that are geared towards younger people and people with families. I've also been following the High Street Cohousing Project  in New Zealand. Would be very interested to hear about other cohousing projects and planned communities.
More details on wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Villages,_Florida#Autonomo...