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Zoox an Aussie Led Startup is Hitting the Automotive Scene

Autonomous vehicles have become the biggest tech race on the planet. The market has heated up with heavy-weigh behemoths, like Apple, Google, Tesla, General Motors, Uber, Baidu and Didi Chuxing, trying to get into what will be most likely the most influential tech market for the next few decades. Now we can add Zoox, a secretive start-up with an Aussie at the helm, to the list.

Zoox has been around for a little while, why it’s now hitting the headlines is that this secretive start-up is reporting it is hitting ‘Godzilla stage’ and has closed in at a valuations of $3 BILLION USD, (yes, BILLIONS, for a highly secretive company that no one knows much about yet) after some very successful rounds of raising capital. There are plenty of big names supporting it, including another big Aussie name, Mike Cannon Brookes, co-founder of Atlassian, and Australian billionaire.

Let’s jump back into Zoox and the biggest tech race in the planet. First a few key names, the Aussie that local media is going crazy over, the ideas man behind Zoox is Tim Kentley-Kay, who was then joined by fellow co-founder and CTO Jesse Levinson. Tim Kentley-Kay is the Australian connection in what otherwise is a silicon valley start-up with a very American-centric mindset and roadmap, don’t expect their creations to hit Australian streets until long after they have grown comfortable on Californian roads.

 

Zoox has a vision to deliver an autonomous fleet of driverless taxis, with a bold on the road target of 2020. As it’s already halfway through 2018, this target doesn’t seem to be far away. It will be an astronomical challenge, but this race is not for the wary, and it’s not for laggards, this is a costly race to the finish, where the first to deliver a network can quickly obtain a strangle hold that will make entry by the competition almost financially impossible. Why? Let’s get into the race itself.

A new entrant to the market, not only that, but a good-looking challenger is big news. So far the race has been led by huge companies with a lot of financial backing from previous ventures. This hasn’t been a landscape for new start-ups, instead it’s been dominated by successful innovative businesses focusing on a new futuristic business venture – fighting to stay relevant in the future. Autonomous vehicles are set to not only become the new major form of transport for the vast majority of mankind, but it’s also a technology that sits at the juncture of the largest traditional industries and the largest innovative tech – automotive, GPS, image recognition, mapping, AI… this is just the top of the iceberg of the amount of industries that will go into this new technology. It’s going to be big, just like it first was in the ‘roaring 20’s’ with Ford, Chrysler and General Motors.

This won’t be a war where the best idea automatically wins, the real decider will be through a long drawn out war of financial attrition, each foothold gained by a competitor will significantly increase the cost of entry to others, each step of the supply chain will grow more and more costly, each mistake could be a career/business destroyer, and then finally only a few may win, billions of dollars later. It’s most likely going to be the most expensive innovative boom that we have yet seen.

It’s an interesting view of the future, it’s very likely that for the majority of people in the developed world the way they get from A to B will be forever changed. Cars could become a nostalgic luxury, like a type writer, or camping. Owning a car could be seen as a business investment as it joins the network and earns the household money. Coupled with renewable energy tech, cities may no longer be marked with the cacophony of traffic and commuter smog. It will change our lives, it will change the landscape. It will even change parenting. Kids need to go to Saturday football? A self driving taxi can pick them up and drop them off.

 


So, what do we know about Zoox? Not too much. Part of it’s mystique is it’s blanket of secrecy, but what we do know so far from leaks and releases is this company isn’t just a wishful thought but a strong contender that can take on the likes of Apple. We have covered the $3 billion milestone, it has backers with considerable clout, it’s also poaching engineers from it’s biggest competitors. It’s estimated 16% of it’s hires are coming from Tesla, it’s poached 17 high profile engineers from Apple’s shelved project “Titan”, and it’s taken a further headcounts from Uber and Google. This is big news, if the engineers are excited enough to jump ship, they can see a strong chance of success for Zoox. To stress the importance of this, good engineers are constantly in demand, they command high salaries, and when you can see industry leading engineers jumping ship to a new business, it’s a indicator that they see something special in the technology and vision of the company.

We mentioned Apple’s project “Titan”, yes, the race has already lost a big contender and it’s left a gap for Zoox to jump into the race. This leaves Waymo (Google), Uber, Tesla, Lyft (General Motors) and two HUGE Chinese firms that you may not be familiar with, Baidu (market cap of $99bn) and Didi Chuxing (the world’s second largest start-up, valued at $50bn). This isn’t going to be an America-centric race alone, China is a rapidly growing economy with a strong manufacturing backbone, the market is in the strategic position to be able to drive affordable entry-level renewable vehicles into the market and has a rapidly growing IT sector.

The success of America in the 1920’s, the roaring 20’s came off the back of a booming post war manufacturing in conjunction with the boom of automobile manufacturing. China is betting on a similar boom if they can take the lead on  autonomous driving. This isn’t just a race by manufacturers, in a few years this is could start to feel like a geopolitical face-off akin to the moon-landing. China verses America. Both knowing that who gets there first will own the market.

This may sound like a bit like exaggeration to drive a click, but really it isn’t. This is going to be a huge industry, with cutting edge innovation that is going to spur on new industries and rapid changes. Like the automobile industry that went before it, owning or losing the industry can make or break an economy. China wants to jump on the innovation boom, it has rapidly growing industries to support, it’s no longer a leader in cheap manufacturing and it’s losing low value wages to other developing nations. If it can’t innovate fast it faces the same challenges Japan faced decades ago – what to do next when the country is growing, wealth is growing, the need for higher paying wages is growing, but they are quickly losing their cheap manufacturing base that would support that growth.

America on the other hand is carrying a national debt of $21 trillion; war has not been profitable to the US economy like it was in the 1910’s. Silicon Valley has been a godsend to the American economy – Microsoft, Apple, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc – but this requires continued innovation. Which means they don’t have the luxury of losing this big race.

America to maintain its economy, will need to keep the lead on this race. If China can take the lead, they can potentially eclipse the US economy in not only size but also in power. This is why we predict in a few years, this is going to heat up beyond enterprising start-ups to a government backed innovation race, it’s kind of already started on China’s end. Now enter Zoox – stealing engineers, quickly gathering financial backing, competing against Tesla and Waymo, and perhaps giving Australia a bit more of an avenue into this dynamic innovation race. It’s exciting stuff!

 

 

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