Governments worldwide are working to tackle the serious problems of pollution, congestion and accidents caused by traffic in cities. While solutions in the form of electric and shared vehicles are available, one of the big challenges lies in co-ordinating them at scale to reduce the number of cars on the road.
“Transport authorities hoped bringing in ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft would be the solution, but traffic has actually gone up by 14 per cent in some places because they don’t act as a fleet, responding to demand,” Don Dhaliwal, chief executive and co-founder of the Birmingham-based Conigital, said.
However, the technology used by the ride-hailing apps is a vital link in the chain to cutting traffic and pollution, he added.
“Better and more accessible mobility no longer has to mean blanket decisions about scheduling more bus services,” he said. “Instead, having apps that are easy to use and that are able to share very detailed vehicle data, using GPS location and other information, lets transport operators add the right services.”
Driverless vehicles are the final missing element that will make on-demand shared vehicles commercially viable for both the transport authorities and private mobility companies, because the cost of the driver is removed. Conigital, set up in 2015, makes autonomous vehicle technology that works alongside its ride-hailing and sharing app, and a fleet management platform for transport authorities and mobility services.
The app and the traffic management platform came first, when Conigital started working with its first backer, the Beacon Centre for the Blind. The charity has invested £300,000 with Conigital because its products are built to be accessible for visually impaired people so that they can book their own transport independently.
That first project used autonomous vehicles (AVs) made by another company, and Conigital realised it would be far easier to link their platform to driverless technology that they had designed specifically for the purpose.
Over the past five years, the company has focused on testing its technology, supported by government grants from bodies including Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, as well as seed funding from angels and other private investors, and commercial contracts.
Conigital has raised £6 million since 2015, including revenues of £2.9 million from commercial contracts. The company has 38 staff across three offices in Birmingham, Bangalore in India, and in Australia.
The company has recently completed a project at Southampton airport, where a bus driven by its autonomous technology was used to take passengers from the long-stay car park to the terminal. This year, it has a trial under way in the city of Dubbo, New South Wales, where a Ford pick-up truck fitted with its autonomous technology will provide an on-demand service taking passengers from the airport into the city.
Conigital also aims to complete a £15 million fundraising by September, as it moves out of its product development phase. To achieve this, it is working with accelerator programmes run by the likes of Tech Nation, BetaDen and Angels@Essex.
“One of the key features of the trials to date has been showing we can retrofit existing vehicles, rather than operators having to buy entirely new ones,” Dhaliwal said. “We’re now able to show commercial customers that we have something they can utilise and that will reduce their costs.”
The company is initially seeking to win contracts for controlled and semi-controlled environments such as airports as they are far easier for AVs to navigate than city streets, where pedestrians and other drivers do unpredictable things. It is also starting trials in Coventry and Rugeley to oversee AVs with a remote tele-operator looking after up to five cars, rather than having a safety driver in each vehicle to take over if needed.
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