JS: What is your motivation for founding StreetDrone?
MP: The StreetDrone concept was born a few years ago when we were approached to develop one-off vehicles for the testing by an autonomous software developer. At the same time we were working with an autonomous race series, and we were wondering how race teams would be able to test their self-driving code without endangering their extremely expensive vehicles. We didn’t want to do one offs, but the more we researched and understood the market, the more we realised how tough and expensive development and testing is for autonomous innovation, due to the great expense associated with any form of test platform.
As a result, we realised that, unlike the digital revolutions that had gone before it (e.g. Internet, Mobile Phones), the AV revolution is currently in the hands of only the richest players – namely the likes of GM, Tesla and Google. We think that this needs to change, and that development in the hands of the many is the best way forward. This results in StreetDrone’s aim to reduce barriers to entry for any aspiring AV developer.
The other motivation was the great opportunity to work with Mark (StreetDrone CEO, Mark Preston). We’ve always wanted to work together, and StreetDrone allows us to use our collective experience along with Mark’s contacts and background in engineering to create value. We’re both passionate about creating a smarter world and smarter mobility, and StreetDrone can help us get there.
JS: Could you tell me a bit about your background?
MP: Once I was out of uni (my degree is in Marketing and Economics), I started out learning how to sell for Coca Cola. Then I had discovered the internet, in its very early days, and moved to an e-commerce travel company (Travelstore.com) in 1999. From there I made the switch to Expedia in London, becoming only their 7th employee. Here, I focused on affiliate programs and securing business development deals with the main travel providers, such as Eurostar, encouraging them to integrate Expedia products into their website.
From there, I started a couple of my own companies, the first of which was helping smaller travel companies learn what Expedia already knew. A big part of that was helping them to determine which data to use; something I took forward into my next company. Elisa Interactive provided both data analytics and digital marketing for 8 years before I sold the company to Havas in 2013. I continued to work for Havas as Chief Data Officer for three years before founding StreetDrone with Mark in late 2016.
JS: What learning will you take from your previous businesses into the future with StreetDrone?
MP: The first thing I learnt was how not to make lots of mistakes when setting up a small business. The second time you do things you have a much better idea of the strongest strategies going forward and which ones to reject at an early stage.
Additionally, I think the data analytics and marketing background gives us a unique approach compared to most other people in the AV space. We appreciate the importance of a strong brand, clear message and story and in involving a community in the whole development process. We don’t just see an engineering problem, we are much more people focused, and we hope people enjoy working on our platform.
JS: Where do you see the Connected AV market in the next few years and where will StreetDrone fit?
MP: Recently the House of Lords circulated a report which was sceptical about the rate at which autonomous road car would be adopted. The report also cited the other potential applications in the market that are more likely to take place before we see widespread automotive take-up among consumers – farming, last-mile pavement based deliveries are two good examples. I tend agree with this, as the immediate need is to improve understanding of the how the technology works at a very basic level. The market doesn’t have the AI capability at this stage to effectively run self-driving cars on a global scale. As such, we are in a very early developmental stage of autonomy.
There are immediate applications, mainly among slow moving and limited functionality use cases. So for instance it may be that we first see smaller vehicles that follow your postman around to allow him to carry much more mail. StreetDrone fits perfectly with this model, as it allows other industries who are thinking differently about the autonomous problem to develop and test their own innovations and take advantage of the technology.
JS: Which are the three most important factors that will allow StreetDrone to achieve this?
MP: First of all, it’s accessibility will create a huge network effect in driverless technology advancement. With StreetDrone, anybody situated anywhere can write code as part of the SD community. Some of this will be code that won’t be ever used on a vehicle, but that’s okay – having a community and a vast network will allow us to build scale – and the AV revolution needs that
Secondly, cost is important. If we can keep costs down, we allow people to test in real world scenarios rather than a simulated environment. Reducing barriers to entry is a huge differentiator for StreetDrone.
The final factor is the attention to detail and the level of final product provided by StreetDrone. We’re not providing something held together by tape, built in a garage, we’re providing a professional level test platform. Our experienced team has thought about how to tackle the serious issues around functional safety and rules of engagement. We are delivering a well thought-out, fully supported product that aspiring developers will be proud of owning.
JS: Besides StreetDrone, what else do you like to do with your time?
MP: As well as spending time with the family, I’m a keen golfer and cyclist. I take part in the Etape Du Tour every year in July, where 15,000 cyclists tackle one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France
JS: Finally, what car will you be driving in 3 years time?
MP: A Tesla.
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