According to the World Health organisation, 1.3 million people die each year from car crashes caused by human error, while some 4.5 million people are estimated to die from the effects of air pollution and the particulate matter produced, particularly in densely populated urban areas, by road transport and traffic congestion, The motor vehicle impacts the health and life expectancy of the global population, and the fumes it generates impact the environment and contributes to climate change. Accordingly, measures are being taken to reduce the emissions from motor vehicles and to find alternatives to the fossil fuel burning internal combustion engine. Apart from battery operated electric vehicles (Tevva), solar (Stella Vita) and hydrogen (Riversimple), powered cars are being developed. Still, while these help reduce atmospheric pollution and its impact on human well-being and the environment, they do not impact deaths from road accidents, the 20-50 million injuries or disabilities or the 1-2 per cent of GDP cost to the economy.
One development that potentially can address both is the autonomous or driverless car. First invented in 1986 by the German aerospace engineer Ernst Dickmann, the autonomous car was demonstrated in public traffic by Daimler on a three-lane motorway in Paris in 1994. By 2019 there were an estimated 31 million cars with some level of autonomy, though none are fully autonomous (level 5). However, in April 2021, the U.K. Government announced that hands-free driving would be permitted on congested motorways providing the vehicles were equipped with automatic lane-keeping (ALK) technology and travelled at no more than 37 miles per hour. As Criddle (2021) has recognised, “the Government is keen to push the idea that the UK can be a leader in self—driving technology”.
Not only is the Government keen to push the idea, but so is award-winning Dr. Alex Kendall, a New Zealander who obtained his Doctorate in deep learning, computer vision and robotics from the University of Cambridge in 2014. After being employed as a Research Engineer and Scientific Advisor in the Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) and deep learning sector, he founded, in 2017, the London-based Wayve, a technology start-up pioneering AV2.0, the next-generation approach to autonomous driving. This means that they are building machines that have “the intelligence to make their own decisions based on what they see with computer vision”. The vehicles are “trained” and can then apply this newly acquired skill to new, unseen places.
From building their first robotic prototype in their Cambridge garage, they have tested their AV2.0 model in 5 different U.K. cities, built a fleet of self-driving cars and created a business that employs 120 leading people in London and Mountain View, California. Although he intends to employ leading A.I. researchers, Alex’s first hire was not an engineer but a Vice President for People and Culture, Carolin Fleissner. As she says, “From the very first day, we built a culture with intention and a world-class team that brings together people from all walks of life, who align strongly with our values and want to change the world”. Alex believes that building a people-centred work culture is key to the company’s success. For him, it is “important to have a team where people understand the principles of why and what you have built”. He says, “this is what great companies are defined by”.
In September 2021, Wayve announced that it had entered into a partnership with U.K. grocery retailer ASDA to trial autonomous delivery vans. A month later, it announced a similar $13.6 million partnership with Ocado, the online grocery technology company. As of January 2022, it raised $258 million, including a $200 million Series B funding round investment.
Wayve addresses SDGs 3 (Good Health and Well-being) and 13 (Climate Action) plus 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth), 9 (Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure), and 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities) as well as 17 (Partnerships for the goals). In so doing and with its focus on its people, Wayve is very much a harmonious start-up enterprise that focuses on profit, people and the planet.
Criddle,, C.. (2021) Self-Driving cars to be allowed on U.K. road this year. BBC News 28th April.
Garcia-Altes, A., and Perez, K., (2007), The economic cost of road traffic crashes in an urban setting. Inj..Prev 13(1), 65-68.
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