Faction's Driverless Delivery Is Built Lean
Ain McKendrick shares why nimble players will win the AV delivery wars
While there are many paths on the road towards autonomous delivery, there does seem to be a more common route: raise a truckload of capital (usually two or three years ago,) design a fully customized vehicle, put it out in the world, and then… spend all that aforementioned money trying to fix your hardware or responding to customer feedback. South San Francisco-based Faction is taking a much lighter approach, perhaps owing to Founder Ain McKendrick’s decades of experience at marquee hardware brands like Palm and Starsky Robotics. He’s building Faction to be lean: prioritizing teleoperations, building off of existing hardware and recently raising a relatively modest round from TDK Ventures. Here he shares his thoughts on why nimble players will win the delivery wars, how he approaches customers, and the need for improved regulations.
OttOmate: So, what’s Faction?
Ain McKendrick: Faction develops next generation vehicle fleets that leverage driverless technology.
O: What’s your tech background, and what brought you and the team together to create this solution?
AM: I spent most of my early career in consumer electronics and got my start as one of the co-founders of Palm Computing. I entered the vehicle space about 7 years ago - first working on driverless commercial systems, then started working on-road systems. As the vehicles of the future look a lot more like rolling computers, those of us with technology backgrounds are able to pull from past experience when thinking about the digital vehicles of the future.
O: How would you describe Faction’s place in the larger autonomous ecosystem? Do you think of yourself as complementary to some of the larger players?
AM: If you think of the larger players in the space, many of them bet their entire company on artificial intelligence driving and a collective $100B has been spent trying to make it work. There is a similar pitfall if you think that artificial general intelligence is only a couple years away. The reality is that artificial intelligence remains an area of active research, so Faction started out on day one with the assumption that we would have supervised autonomy for a number of years, and it is actually the more evolutionary path to full autonomy.
O: Who are your vehicle partners? Is the system compatible with a larger swath of OEMs, and have you been at all impacted by some of your partner vehicle manufacturers’ own struggles?
AM: By design, Faction started with light EV platforms - notably Arcimoto and ElectraMeccanica in the early days. This accomplished two key goals - it forced us to design a system that could work on smaller vehicles with both cost and power consumption as a constraint. This means we can always expand into larger vehicles, but the more costly and power hungry implementations would have a very hard time competing with us on the same class of vehicles.
O: What’s the ideal use case for a Faction-powered vehicle?
AM: While a lot of us get excited about vehicle on demand applications for personal transportation, logistics is the larger market and where we see the best cost/benefit for both us and our business customers.
O: How do you go to market; what’s the pitch that gets someone to pick Faction over a different AV approach?