The Partnerships Boom for Self-Driving Car Startups

Self-driving car technology has everyone in a frenzy.

Recently, a journalist raved about the MIT spinoff iSee: “Finally, a driverless car with some common sense.”

This tongue-in-cheek appraisal reveals something about the intensity that currently surrounds autonomous driving tech. There is so much activity in the space, but does anyone really have the common sense and know-how to make fully autonomous cars happen?

Almost every other day, a major automotive or tech company takes a major step towards putting self-driving cars on the road. Will they become mainstream in 2019, 2021, or 2025? Every company offers a different target, but all sound ambitious to the average driver.

Those outside the industry may wonder whether the bold claims are realistic, given the relative immaturity of autonomous vehicle technology. After all, the general public only started hearing about self-driving cars a few years ago.

Is it possible for self-driving cars to possess genuine common sense – especially enough to avert serious accidents?

Open innovation and mobility

seedsprint promotes industry partnerships for science-based startups, and we are bullish on self-driving cars.

The reason we are so optimistic is that we understand the power of open innovation. Open innovation is a process through which established corporations help new technologies succeed, by licensing or otherwise incorporating intellectual property from outside the corporation’s walls. Open innovation has made an impact on many industries, and it’s becoming a powerful force in mobility.

The pursuit of self-driving car technology is being defined by aggressive, purposeful open innovation – and for that reason, we look forward to safe, successful autonomous driving in the near future.

A snapshot of recent partnerships with self-driving car startups

These days automotive conferences and tech communities are abuzz with talk of self-driving car partnerships. The laundry list of partnerships in the autonomous driving space is exhausting to read. A recent graphic from earlier this year (credit to Ptolemus Consulting) paints a picture in logos.

Countless closed-door meetings are taking place between big players (such as BMW, Ford, Uber) and newer autonomy companies (such as and Luminar). What do established car companies and leading tech companies stand to gain from working with brand new startup and researcher teams?

Recode offers this concise thesis. “As the hype around driverless cars grew, so did the demand for teams with backgrounds in AI and machine learning — both relatively nascent fields. Even the biggest tech companies, namely Uber, were left wanting.”

Established companies need insight into niche, sophisticated software problems. In exchange, they are providing critical resources to startups with great ideas for how to build the self-driving future. The support corporations can provide includes funding, in kind resources, market access, and more. (Read more about how companies help seedsprint members scale up.)

Seeking smart partnerships

What do these new partnerships look like?

Startup teams may opt to join forces with the large companies instead of going it alone. As a 2016 Fortune article mentions, GM acquired a company for $1B that didn’t even have a product on the market yet.

Some startups are also staying independent and using partnerships to help them scale up, by hiring more staff, tackling tricky problems, and testing their technology on the road. One example of this is JingChi, one of the many startups that has received recent investment from software company Nvidia. The Chinese self-driving car startup plans to use Nvidia’s investment to scale up R&D and make more hires in the United States.

Avoiding partnership potholes

The momentum around autonomy is undeniable. But successful partnerships require compromise and a great deal of thoughtful negotiation.

Smart startups understand how much established players need their technology – and seek to understand their perspective. Corporations, academia, and startups have notoriously different cultures. What can be done to forge great partnerships and keep them strong?

According to self-driving car startup Aurora, a “trusting and respectful relationship on both sides” is essential. “The goal for Aurora… is to get self-driving cars on the road as quickly as possible and do that safely and thoughtfully and do it through partnership with the folks that can help us,” said the company’s CEO in a recent interview.

Network, network, network

Researchers and startups should rise to meet the challenge of autonomy – and take the big players up on their offer of resources. As long corporations continue to put a high premium on self-driving car innovation, this new industry is going to blow past everyone’s expectations.

Are you a researcher, self-driving car startup or corporate tech scout? Sign up for a seedsprint account to contact innovative companies on the seedsprint network.


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