clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Zendrive's Jonathan Matus Says Robot Cars Are Definitely in Your Future

And clogged freeways will be nothing but a charmingly retro memory.

Asa Mathat

In five years’ time, most city dwellers will commute via ride-sharing services or public transportation in the U.S., as the solo driver traversing the nation’s clogged freeways fades into the past.

That’s the prediction Zendrive co-founder and chief executive Jonathan Matus offered in remarks Wednesday at the Code/Mobile conference at The Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif. He offered wide-ranging forecasts about the changes ahead for the automotive industry, including the growing demand for electric vehicles and the rise of autonomous cars.

It’s an area he knows well.

Matus and co-founder Pankaj Risbood launched Zendrive last year to capitalize on the rise of the ride- and car-sharing phenomenon. The San Francisco startup uses data to improve the driving experience, and it has attracted some big-name investors, including BMW i Ventures and Fontinalis Partners, the Detroit-based venture founded by Ford Motor Co. executive chairman Bill Ford.

One product, ZenFleets, collects data from the smartphones of drivers for ride-share, car-share and delivery services. It uses the phone’s sensors to detect the kind of activities that can lead to accidents, such as speeding, sharp accelerations, swerving and hard braking. It has already sold this data service to HipSkipDrive, a ride-sharing service for parents who need to ferry their kids to after-school activities, and RedCap, a car service.

Another product, Zendrive Automatic Accident Detection, automatically alerts family members or emergency services in the event of an accident.

This transformational shift away from personal vehicle ownership to on-demand services like Uber and Lyft is fueled by the smartphone.

“Thanks to the on-demand economy and thanks to these [ride-sharing] services, people like myself who live in big cities don’t need to own a car,” said Matus. “I don’t need a big piece of metal that costs $50,000.”

Matus says autonomous cars are definitely moving down the road — though it seems likely that services such as Uber will acquire these expensive vehicles, rather than individual investors. In Tokyo, taxi operators have promised to bring such self-driving robot vehicles to the city by 2020.

Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors has demonstrated that electric vehicles can be just as good as those powered by internal combustion engines. But work still needs to be done to replace the lithium ion battery, which is too big and bulky, and takes too long to charge, he said.

This article originally appeared on

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for Vox Recommends

Get curated picks of the best Vox journalism to read, watch, and listen to every week, from our editors.