5 Innovative Companies Developing Autonomous Vehicle Technology

As the global population grows and more and more people move to cities, the future of transportation will need to evolve. This will likely involve autonomous vehicles, whether in the form of driverless cars, shuttles, trains, or seafaring vessels. In no particular order, here are some companies to keep an eye on that are on the cutting edge of this technology, envisioning new uses and working to expand our ideas of how we move both cargo and ourselves.

Starting us off at #1 is Optimus Ride, which designs and builds autonomous technology systems for geofenced environments. This includes industrial parks, ports, airports, academic campuses, and retirement and residential communities. Emerging from Boston's vibrant robotics ecosystem, the company has worked in areas such as the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the Seaport District in Boston, and The Yards in Washington, DC, where a fleet of autonomous vehicles was deployed in 2020 to bring meals to families in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Optimus Ride has also collaborated with Microsoft to accelerate the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles around the world. The company's Virtual Ride Assistant provides dynamic interactions between riders, the vehicle, and the operations team, offering audio and visual tools for riders to be informed of the ride status, request changes in destination or routing, or contact the company's remote assistance system.

At #2 is Marine Advanced Robotics, Inc., makers of the Wave Adaptive Modular Vessel, or WAM-V. This innovative class of watercraft employs unique suspension technology to improve seagoing capabilities. Unlike conventional boats, the WAM-V's flexible structure adapts and conforms to the surface of the water, resulting in a smooth and level platform. Inflatable pontoons help absorb motion and force, and the articulating suspension system makes it both maneuverable and stable. They can be used for defense and asset protection, navigation surveys, and robotics research, among other uses.

The WAM-V, which can be manned or autonomous, is ideal for research purposes. As sea-states worsen, excessive pitch and roll quickly limit a conventional boat's ability to gather data, but the WAM-V protects equipment so sensors and instruments continue to function across a wider range of environments for improved data collection. The modular design also makes storage and shipment cost effective, and there are a vast array of sizes and bespoke build concepts available.

Coming in at #3 is AutonomouStuff, a leading supplier of R&D platforms, products, software, and engineering services for the advancement of robotics and autonomy systems around the globe. The company was formed after CEO Bobby Hambrick noticed that, due to a significant gap in the industry supply chain, robotics enterprises were having a hard time getting the technology they needed. Now with offices in multiple countries, the company offers engineering services, software development, and a variety of components to help users build autonomous driving platforms for any application.

In 2018, AutonomouStuff was acquired by Hexagon, a global leader in sensor, software and autonomous solutions with the goal of putting data to work to empower an autonomous future. Hexagon has provided solutions for industries like manufacturing, public safety, and construction. AutonomouStuff is continually looking toward the future, developing software that can be applied to highway automation and off-road or class 8 trucks.

The #4 selection is Keolis, a leading provider of passenger transportation services throughout the U.S. and Canada, carrying millions of people each year via train, bus, and taxi through public contracts for services that include fleet management and maintenance, logistics, and routing. Worldwide, Keolis operates systems in over 15 countries and is the largest light rail operator in the world, serving 470 million passengers in cities across the globe.

Keolis North America has been a leader in the advancement of driverless shuttles. In 2017, the first self-driving mass transit test in the country began in Las Vegas, shuttling passengers along a half-mile route downtown. ith AAA on board as a partner, the project has garnered enthusiasm from publications like Business Insider, with proponents seeing it as only the first glimpse of what will eventually be the future of transportation.

Rounding out the list at #5 is Ridecell, which provides companies with the technology needed to run a standalone ridesharing or carsharing operation, or even a hybrid that combines both. The group's end-to-end automation covers onboarding new riders, checking IDs, dynamic pricing, driver-rider matching, scheduling, payment processing, and an easy-to-use, customizable app. Active in the industry for more than a decade, Ridecell has processed more than 20 million rides.

Ridecell's innovations in the driverless space are uniquely focused on empty vehicles. In a carsharing or commercial fleet business, vehicles are frequently parked in low-demand locations while not in use. Automated technology can relocate them to high-demand locations or bring them in for maintenance. By focusing on these scenarios, systems can be optimized for low-speed operations, non-peak hours, and routes that avoid heavy intersections, making them deployable much sooner for real-world applications like home delivery of rental or shared cars.