A contrarian approach to autonomous driving — our investment in Vay

Vay’s tele-driving technology makes driving safer for passengers and drivers alike as well as reduce inner-city car congestion. That’s why we invested

By Philipp Werner, Principal @ Project A

Since Elon Musk bullishly stated that “a year from now we’ll have a million cars with full self-driving software, everything” back in early 2019, there has been a general consensus that self-driving cars are the future, making our lives even more convenient and time-efficient whilst making our streets safer. Expectations were high and yet, here we are approaching 2022 and it appears that autonomous driving remains a significantly harder problem to solve than launching reusable rockets into space.

Elon acknowledging he underestimated the complexity of generalised self-driving cars.

The same year that Elon made his bold prediction, ThomasFabrizio and Bogdan, founders of the Berlin-based deep tech company Vay, who had spent a good amount of time working on autonomous driving in Silicon Valley, realised that it will in fact take many more years before full level 5 autonomy will be commercially available to consumers.

Together with a unique team of former employees of some of the world’s leading automotive companies including Tesla, Google, Waymo, Uber, Zoox, Byton, Argo and Amazon as well as Audi, Daimler and BMW, they engineered a different solution to leverage the advantages of autonomous driving: tele-driving — essentially when a car is entirely operated from a remote location. Still a hard problem to solve, but something that they were able to pull off and make a reality long before we will see fully autonomous cars on the streets of European inner cities.

Launching their certified driverless commercial mobility service on public streets in Hamburg in 2022, Vay will eventually offer two services to consumers: One where a car is tele-driven to the users location where they take over the wheel and drive to their destination before the remote driver takes over again (think of it as improved car sharing). And one where users sit in the back of the car and let the tele-driver do their job (think next generation ride hailing). Apart from being super futuristic, what’s the big deal you may ask?

Well, not only is tele-driving likely to be significantly safer for the passengers (most common causes for car accidents are distracted driving, drunk driving, speeding, running lights and stop signs as well as aggressive driving and fatigue — all of which can be controlled when the driver sits in an office with 360-degree blindspot-free vision) but also more convenient for the driver (think access to lavatory facilities and other in-office benefits as well as being safe from potentially aggressive passengers). Moreover, we believe that Vay’s tele-driving technology and its efficient use of driver capacity will contribute to reducing inner city car congestion — and in the long-run it has the potential to transform mobility in an even bigger way by competing with private car ownership in urban areas.

In the meantime, thanks to their regulatory, safety and cyber security standard compliant (ISO 26262 & 21434) tele-driving technology, we believe that Vay has a serious shot at leapfrogging existing car sharing and ride-hailing providers which will need full level 5 autonomy to remain competitive against Vay on both price and eventually availability. At the same time, Vay is well-positioned to gradually leverage any assisted driving technology progress that the industry will surely make over the next few years, thanks to ​​real-world data collection at scale and the possibility of only allocating drivers where they are really needed.

We are excited to become a part of this mobility revolution by joining forces with Kinnevik, Coatue, Eurazeo, Atomico, Creandum and others on Vay’s $95m Series B financing round and look forward to supporting the team hands-on with our unique operational approach wherever needed to scale tele-driving across Europe!