Bibhrajit Halder, Founder and CEO of SafeAI
Courtesy: SafeAI Safe
Despite the ambitions of Waymo, Cruise, Tesla and others, robotaxis have yet to revolutionize transportation in the US and are in a state of constant technological development. Autonomous vehicles are now already in full-time use in heavy industries such as mining and construction.
That is one of the reasons why SafeAI founder and CEO Bibhrajit Halder has given up his work with autonomous cars. The start-up retrofits vehicles and equipment that are already popular in heavy industry – including dump trucks, dump trucks, bulldozers and compact loaders – with its autonomous systems.
Halder previously worked on autonomous software and systems at Ford, Faraday Future and Apple, after having worked for heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar for a long time, where he worked on their groundbreaking autonomous mining truck.
The CEO stated that operating a taxi is a different and less profitable task than operating equipment that can move materials in a mine, quarry, or to build dams or other infrastructure.
Transporting passengers on public roads requires vehicles that can handle a mix of good and bad drivers, pedestrians, complex road rules, and other challenges. Moving materials and equipment at site-specific slower speeds and in cramped environments where only licensed professionals are on-site is not easy – but easier than moving people.
Even owners of mining and construction vehicles are willing to pay for state-of-the-art systems as long as they increase the safety and productivity of their fleets. Most taxi, limo, or ridesharing fleets cannot afford fleets of sophisticated automated vehicles at today’s cost.
At the same time, builders and miners have already made significant investments in heavy equipment.
Some of the vehicles used to move tons of material to construction sites can cost more than $ 1 million upfront, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in operating costs like labor, fuel, service, and maintenance, Halder says .
This is one reason SafeAI focused on retrofitting existing vehicles rather than building new ones. The four-year-old company developed its autonomous systems using standard components such as cameras, microprocessors, and lidar sensors, and then wrote its own machine learning software. In a dump truck, this helps construction workers and miners complete a load-hul-dump cycle without human intervention.
The workers still have to load dirt onto the truck, but the SafeAI equipped vehicle can detect how much weight is in its loading area and when it has reached its capacity it can move the dirt to a specific location and automatically dump it.
SafeAI retrofits vehicles for use in heavy industry in order to make them autonomous.
Courtesy: SafeAI Safe
A skid steer loader with the SafeAI system can pick up and move dirt, snow or rubbish in a similar way.
Halder says: “Since this is all on private land, there is no federal mandate that prevents the use of autonomous systems. So we have no regulatory hurdles. Instead, we concentrate on all safety standards.”
He notes that Caterpillar’s autonomous vehicles have moved more than 3 billion tons of material without a single accident, which has helped the industry trust autonomous technology.
$ 21 million Series A
SafeAI is headquartered in Milpitas, California with offices in Perth, Australia and Tokyo. SafeAI has just raised $ 21 million in a Series A venture funding round led by Builders VC, a San Francisco-based company focused on technology that modernizes antiquated industries. Industry players such as the Japanese construction giant Obayashi, the Australian mining company Maca and the Indian conglomerate Vimson Group support Safe AI together with other venture investors.
Mark Blackwell, General Partner of Builders, told CNBC that his company is backing SafeAI in part because of the founder’s impressive background and willingness of the market to embrace more autonomous vehicles. But he also said he hoped SafeAI can make the work of mining and construction greener and safer.
“The weak points in mining are acute. The industry represents 1% of the global workforce but 8% of deaths at work. If you drive autonomously, you can work more safely and save fuel by saving 7% per year and vehicle. “
SafeAI is focused on working in the constrained environments of the mining and construction industries and plans to use its funds to expand in Japan, Australia and the United States. However, Halder remains patiently optimistic about driverless vehicles in the transport sector.
He said, “The technology isn’t quite there yet. But because of the high interest and funding – with tens of billions invested in the world of driverless vehicles – things are really moving forward. We will make it. But I think we need to be patient. It took us 100 years to make cars as good as they are today. ”