Self-driving trucks are already attracting usual-suspect tech giants like Uber and reportedly) Tesla, but the latest player comes from an unexpected place. Flux Auto is a 16-person startup based in Bangalore, India, that wants to make autonomous-driving tech more widely available to truck operators by making it cheaper. As such, it is developing technology that will allow any commercial truck to be retrofitted with autonomous-driving capability, according to TechCrunch.
In order to achieve its goal, Flux won’t use lidar, which most other firms believe is essential for autonomous vehicles. Lidar units are simply too expensive, Flux believes. The startup claims its image-processing algorithm is sophisticated enough that regular cameras will be adequate. Flux hopes to sell its system for $3,000 to $4,500, which wouldn’t be possible if lidar was included.
But Flux faces challenges beyond creating an affordable lidar workaround. First off, its home country isn’t exactly hospitable to autonomous vehicles. India’s chaotic roads have frustrated engineers working to develop self-driving cars, and the country’s transport minister wants to ban autonomous vehicles outright, claiming they pose a threat to jobs.
Flux has already tested its tech on cars, and it just equipped its first truck with a prototype system. The company is currently seeking $1.5 million to continue development, and plans to equip 2,500 vehicles with its tech over the next 12 months. Not all of those vehicles will operate in India; Flux may even establish a U.S. office as it works to bring the technology to market.
Retrofitting existing vehicles could help get more self-driving trucks on the road faster, but Flux will have to ensure its tech works on every conceivable type of truck, in a wide variety of conditions. Creating rules for autonomous vehicles is already proving challenging in the U.S., and the situation could be even more uncertain in other markets Flux may try to enter. Hey, no one said fundamentally changing transportation would be easy.