The gold rush around self-driving cars is inspiring engineers and designers to strike out on their own. A shortage of experienced professionals in the field and carmakers’ confusion about the technology is creating opportunities for engineers, from the lesser known to the high profile.
They’ll parlay their skills in robotics, digital maps and optics to get customers in the car world, if they haven’t already. Fundraising by auto-related startups nearly doubled to $1 billion in 2016, with the lion’s share coming from companies in Silicon Valley, according to CB Insights. (Zoox, which is building a futuristic self-driving car, took home a quarter of that total.) Of course, the transportation revolution is going far beyond cars to areas like public transportation services and logistics for transporting goods. (Scroll down for the list.)
How can the principle of atoms arranging themselves to form stable metal help pack boxes inside larger containers? Can the pattern of insects walking from their colonies to gather food teach you something about cleaning GPS coordinates for easier route-mapping?
Turns out that the inherent chaos in nature and learnings from particle physics are helping shape new technology for the all-important logistics industry.
In India, e-commerce routes are more congested, and more unpredictable, than virtual highways. “Floods during the monsoon, traffic jams caused by festivals or work on public roads, pavements broken, addresses untraceable. The list is long, “ laments Santanu Bhattacharya, director in charge of data science at Delhivery, a young Indian shooter specializing in logistics. In the run-up to the festival of Diwali - the festival of lights during which gifts are offered - at the end of October, Indian e-commerce companies are preparing for a peak of activity.
The period just before and around Diwali is always peak shopping season in India. Over the last two years it has become a bellwether event for online retail with all of India’s major e-Commerce companies running massive festive sales just preceding and during the festive season. Last year for instance, Indian consumers bought over $1B worth of merchandise online during October. Diwali sales also drive the largest influx of new consumers into the online market, thus becoming the defining event for the next year’s growth.
Surendra Kumar, 30, has an eye for detail and an instinct to match. A few weeks ago, Kumar, tasked with spotting fake Apple products at the New Delhi airport for Delhivery, a logistics company specialising in ecommerce deliveries, was betting on gut feel when he pointed out a package contained a fake iPhone.
When confronted, the seller indignantly unboxed the phone. Everything looked perfect — the phone had the trademark iPhone all-metallic body with the plastic wrap cover, and the box had its usual placements. But Kumar, who until a year ago used to scan Air India travelers and their bags for explosives, remained unconvinced and asked the vendor to switch on the iPhone.