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Driverless Delivery Vehicles: Who’s your competition?

Whether an investor, reporter, or customer, most are assuming I’m going to name another autonomous driving platform. In reality, there’s only one competitor that matters. The gig worker who is willing to drive a 15 year old car for a delivery service that pays them a miserably low wage. This is what sets the market, and in many places it means $2.50/mile for a delivery.

It’s a harsh reality for an autonomous technology company suffering the curse of too much cash that may have built a robotic driving system costing anything north of $30,000 per vehicle. Payback for those systems will never be achieved within a reasonable period of time with the margins needed to have a viable business against underpaid human competition.

Building a Product

At Faction, we like to say we are not an autonomous company, but we are a driverless company. We achieve driverless solutions by combining autonomy with humans known as teleoperators. While the concept of autonomy plus teleoperation isn’t new, Faction’s approach has been to develop a complete product by working with select vehicle manufacturers, technology partners, and connecting with customers to develop a comprehensive solution.

Faction D1 Cargo Driverless Delivery Vehicle
Faction D1 Cargo Driverless Delivery Vehicle

Faction’s DriveLink® + TeleAssist® platform is a hybrid solution that leverages computer technology for what it’s good at — keeping the vehicle safe and staying on course. Our human operators use TeleAssist® to allow them to press buttons and provide judgment calls when the driverless vehicles need a little help. The combined solution is not only the most cost-effective way to deliver driverless services, but we would argue it is the most effective solution as fleets scale.

Faction TeleAssist® Workstations and Operators
Faction TeleAssist® Workstations and Operators

A key early decision at Faction was to start with light electric vehicles as our initial platform. Not only did this decision reinforce our goal of “right-sizing” vehicles for their applicable use, but it forced us to make technology choices that could reasonably be applied to this class of vehicle from both a space and power perspective. Coming back to my example of competition with more elaborate autonomous vehicle platforms — many of the companies in our industry would find it impossible to fit their technology stack onto smaller electric vehicles. It’s dramatically harder to scale technology down than to scale it up.

And…coming back to the real competition. We’re not looking to put gig workers out of a job. We would rather give them a better job and pay them a better wage. Once we get somebody out of a car, and into an operations center, they are able to help multiple vehicles per hour while on missions. This results in a much more productive “driver”, while at the same time expanding the capacity for driverless delivery that we can extend to customers. TeleAssist® operators make more money, while customers save money. It’s a win-win scenario we’re excited about scaling in the market!

Ain McKendrick is the founder and CEO of Faction which develops driverless solutions based on light electric vehicles. The company believes the future of sustainable transportation is to develop driverless vehicles that are safe, cost-effective, and right-sized to serve a range of use cases for both business and passenger transportation needs.