The Adelaide tech company that's taking driverless cars to the world
Written on the 2 March 2018 by David Simmons
As each year passes the idea of completely autonomous cars and vehicles becomes less of a science-fiction story and much more of a reality.
With Tesla releasing its Model 3 to the mass market at the beginning of 2018 semi-autonomous vehicles are becoming more and more mainstream. But as Cohda Wireless CEO Paul Gray says "a fully autonomous Tesla is easy. A fully autonomous Ford Fiesta is a whole other matter."
That's not to say that Cohda Wireless, a tech company based in Adelaide, isn't far from making the mass market autonomous car a reality - in fact it's getting close.
Since 2004, Cohda have been working on technology for Connected Autonomous Vehicles, or 'CAVs' for those in the know.
The tech they've been creating allows CAVs to 'talk' to each other, and other road users, in order to avoid accidents, reduce congestion, and be more efficient.
But you'd be forgiven for not knowing who Cohda are - they've been lying pretty low until this year when the company decided to let the market know that their products are becoming more commercially viable.
In the last two weeks, Cohda has hired a specialist VP of marketing, Andrea Ash, to push their brand globally, and have expanded into the hugely lucrative Chinese market.
Prior to these announcements, Cohda has been working on projects around Australia and the world. With the South Australian State Government, Cohda has been developing tech for autonomous vehicles whilst across the globe the company secured a contract with the City of New York to begin rolling out Smart City tech which can 'talk' to CAVs.
Part of Cohda's involvement with the SA Government has seen its tech installed into Adelaide's infamous Obahn bus system - with a total of 175 buses now running on Cohda's tech. In New York, 4,000 vehicles will have Cohda's CAV tech running in a city-wide trial run by the New York City Department of Transport.
The company has also opened an office in Shanghai to supply China's rapidly developing markets for Smart Cities and autonomous cars. The new Shanghai office joins a network of Cohda markets scattered around the world in Australia, the United States, and Europe.
We spoke to CEO Paul Gray about the company's recent manoeuvres, the future of autonomous cars, and the challenges they face working in the CAV space.
2018 is shaping up to be a big year for Cohda - what have you got in the pipeline?
There's four main markets we're focused on at the moment. One is the vehicle to vehicle connectivity. Another is smart cities, and that's mainly on the infrastructure side and providing what's needed to support these connected vehicles. The next market we're focused on is mining, working on collision avoidance for mine vehicles, and we have a deployment there with Rio Tinto in Utah. And the final market we're focused on is that of autonomous vehicles, in particular how connectivity can improve their performance and lower the costs of autonomous vehicles generally. That's a little bit further out for us, and is being focused on by the research team at the moment.
How receptive are car manufacturers and cities to the tech you're developing?
I think five or six years ago we struggled, but this whole 'smart cities' idea has become such a hot topic, and I think everybody is looking at how they can improve the performance of cities. They see the benefits now. You can do things the same old way or you can do things the smarter way and make big improvements. Rather than spending a billion dollars on adding an extra lane to the motorway they can see ways they can do things smarter and get benefits without spending nearly as much money.
Do you get a lot of support from the local government in SA?
We are very well supported by the State Government here. They've been big supporters of Cohda and really helped us a lot with some trials here in Australia. There's a lot of activity here, especially on the autonomous front. I think there's starting to be a real momentum building in terms of getting companies to come to Adelaide to set up and that's been really beneficial. Now we're in a position where not only can we get these autonomous vehicles here for testing but the State Government has put in place the legislation to allow testing of those autonomous vehicles on public roads which is going to be a big win for us.
How far off are we from completely autonomous vehicles becoming mainstream and affordable?
I think they will be about five years away. But they're going to be high end vehicles initially as always is the way for these deployments. They're going to be very expensive cars. But that's a part of what Cohda is really focused on with connectivity - how far can the connectivity improve the performance and lower the cost of autonomous vehicles. My favourite saying is "a fully autonomous Tesla is easy. A fully autonomous Ford Fiesta is a whole other matter." And that's what we're focused on - how can we develop solutions that really make the autonomous vehicle go mainstream.
Business News Australia
Author: David Simmons