18th June 2019

The Future is Autonomous: A View from IP Group

By Jamie Vollbracht

We live in a time of rapid, systemic change. New technologies and changing demands are driving disruption to established industries. This creates opportunity, both for wealth creation and for broader societal and environmental benefits.

I can think of two good examples from my personal experience: about fifteen years ago, I started working in solar energy. At the time, solar energy was seen as an exorbitantly expensive way to generate energy and experts predicted it would never make meaningful inroads into the energy system. Today, it is the cheapest way to generate energy in most parts of the world. Another shift is the electrification of transport. Prepare to be surprised at how quickly this happens! Those same experts are already revising up their projections for electric vehicles every year. The wealth creation and broader environmental benefits in both cases are obvious.

How does this link with Oxbotica?

My role at IP Group is to look for these structural shifts. To attempt to envisage how they will play out, where value is likely to accrue as they do and as such what an attractive opportunity might look like. I look for entrepreneurs focusing on these areas, invest in them and then do what I can to support them in achieving success. The development and deployment of autonomous vehicles is one of these structural shifts that we foresee. We are confident Oxbotica is well positioned to deliver on this opportunity, as a developer of autonomous vehicle software with a leadership team that understands what it takes to deploy software into real-world applications.

Let’s look at one element of how we see autonomous vehicles evolving and how this influenced our decision to invest in Oxbotica: which vehicles will become autonomous and when. Let’s simplistically divide vehicles into two categories: passenger cars on the road and everything else. Substantial effort is going into developing autonomy for passenger cars on the road. In fact, pursuing this application is where the vast majority of vehicle autonomy investment has been made to date. And we are certainly excited about the potential.  But we believe delivering passenger vehicle autonomy will take time. It will start initially under tightly defined conditions in controlled environments.  And only gradually will it be viable to broaden out from there towards the ultimate vision of a driverless car that can take you to all the places you can go in your current car without needing any human control.

Oxbotica is one of the best placed companies to deliver on this promise. But we think other vehicle types and applications for autonomy are as, if not more exciting, especially in the near term. Take mining as an example application. Mines are already tightly controlled environments and mining vehicles are orders of magnitude more costly to build and operate than passenger vehicles. This means that autonomous vehicles can be deployed in mines today.

One of Oxbotica’s strengths is that its technology enables any vehicle operating anywhere at any time to be autonomous. This was the founding principle for the Oxbotica team and everything derives from that premise. The fact that Oxbotica has built its technology stack in this way gives it a huge advantage. Unlike many autonomous vehicle companies, Oxbotica can deliver autonomous vehicles in near-term applications like mining. Deploying in these domains generates both revenue and insights to help the team develop its technology for longer term passenger vehicle applications which Oxbotica’s stack is equally applicable to.

And what about broader societal and environmental benefits in the case of autonomous vehicles and Oxbotica? Yes, optimised routes and smoother acceleration/deceleration through autonomous operations both deliver efficiency improvement that benefit the environment. But equally, if not more important, are the safety benefits. As with any other system where human errors are removed, the system is safer.  Reducing the number of traffic accidents that occur on the roads every day is definitely something worth striving for.

About Jamie Vollbracht

Jamie is a Partner at IP Group, specialising in Cleantech. His other portfolio boards include off-grid solar home systems business Azuri and battery tech business Dukosi. 

For more information, visit IP Group plc Cleantech