In the not-too-distant future, we may see self-driving cars everywhere. How distant depends on who you ask. Google has pledged they will be ubiquitous in five years; others say longer. Everyone working on them — Google, Tesla, Uber and the big car companies — is likely feeling rushed along now that Apple is in the race.
But it will be several years, if not decades, before fully autonomous vehicles roll out of production. In the meantime, a handful of companies are working to retrofit current cars with self-driving specs. Here’s a new one: Nauto, a startup that sells a small dashboard camera replete with advanced computer vision software. Attached to the windshield, the small camera captures data on surrounding vehicles as well as the behavior of the driver, measuring details like eye movements, in real time. It doesn’t make the car drive itself, but it begins to install the features and collect the data used in autonomous cars.
Nauto went public today after testing in 23 cities worldwide. It is now piloting its system with some 20 taxi, limousine and private bus fleets in the San Francisco area. The company is starting out with these fleets for its camera — sold for $400, plus a subscription fee — since they have to buy more expensive dashboard devices for insurance purposes. Those fleets can use the data to improve driver safety or ward off liability claims.
Yet Nauto expects to go after private vehicle owners, who don’t typically dole out the expenses for autonomous tech.
“You don’t have to buy a Tesla, an upgraded Mercedes or wait for a Google car,” said Stefan Heck, Nauto’s CEO. “This is a way for anyone with any car to get those features. These are really buildings blocks to head to full autonomy, which will come.”
Those building blocks for self-driving cars include cameras and radar that detect things around a vehicle, feeding that info to it. Nauto’s hope is to get in early, getting its system in enough cars that will eventually upgrade to autonomy. It’s not alone. Cruise, another startup working to retrofit cars with autonomous driving tech, nabbed a $12.5 million round two weeks ago, along with the lead of Tesla’s self-driving program.
Nauto plans to share data with city governments that have pushed “Vision Zero” initiatives to curb traffic deaths. Another revenue model down the road: Lending the data to insurance providers hungry for driving information.
Heck said Nauto’s autonomous tools give it an edge over other navigation tools, such as Waze, the app owned by Google, since drivers don’t have to put in information manually. Nauto has raised $2.6 million in a seed round led by SunEdison CEO Ahmad Chatila. Among its advisers is Rohit Aggarwala, a former principal at Bloomberg Associates and New York City planning director. He began consulting with Nauto before he joined Sidewalk Labs, the urban company formed by Google, in July.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.