How a bootstrapped team of engineers in Bengaluru is building India’s answer to Tesla's AutopilotPranav Manpuria
The Co-founder of Flux Auto shares his experience and the challenges his company faces every day in its efforts to take on global giants in the self-driving space by building the technology for trucks.
How we started
Our journey began in late January of 2017. Seeing articles every day about self-driving technology, I was curious to know more about this exciting industry. As a big science fiction fan, it’s always been a dream to own a vehicle that drives itself, understands its surroundings, and makes intelligent decisions.
Once I began digging deeper into the industry, however, I realised how far everyone was from actually getting there. The tech giants of the world seemed to be enamoured by the technology and were treating it like a research project, building with no real sign of a product. This gave us an impetus, and a real opportunity to rub shoulders with the world’s biggest companies.
But the thought of building a self-driving car didn’t appeal to me. No one would pay a few thousand dollars to add self-driving functionality to a personal vehicle. The only market where the cost of the technology could be justified and its features actually added value was one where the vehicles earned money every day.
And that’s where I saw the biggest commercial opportunity - self-driving technology for trucks.
After a few hours of discussing this with my friend Praneet, I registered our domain name and put out feelers to hire the tech team.
Over the next week, we had broken down the self-driving technology requirements into several divisions - vision, mechanical, machine learning etc. - and set out to find the best people for each.
We were lucky to be able to put together a group of talented people very quickly who would go on to help shape this company with us. On February 6, 2017, we had our first team Skype call. Abhishek (another long-time friend), Praneet and I, along with 10 equally starry-eyed engineers sat down together and tried to come up with ways to solve this gargantuan problem.
We had no direct experience in the self-driving space. So, as a team, we spent the next few weeks learning as much as possible. We dug deep into the technology, industry, companies in it, what caused some of them to fail early, and where we could fit in.
We devoured all the information we could find about self-driving - articles, videos, tutorials, and interviews. Finally, we felt we had a good enough understanding of what building this technology entailed. Only then did we begin writing code or working on the hardware.
Our team has been one of our biggest assets. We have been very fortunate to find like-minded people who believe in our idea and vision as much as we do. But we have been even luckier that they have moved to Bengaluru just to work with us without the promise of riches or fame.
It is definitely hard at times to keep the team going without any pay or tangible incentives. However, like us, they know the potential of the technology we are building, and where we can reach if we keep our head down and continue working hard.
When we hit a roadblock, metaphorically speaking, of course, it's their trust in us that keeps us going.
While they might not look like much on paper, we have specifically chosen people who have previous experience with the technologies we are working on. The self-driving industry is a nascent one, and there are no experts yet. The burden is on us to teach ourselves everything we need to succeed and get there quicker than anyone else.
Another major asset has been a clear, laser-sharp focus on this single-use case for our technology. Almost every day we get people telling us to use our technology in a different market or for a different vehicle. But we have a lot of conviction and unwavering confidence in the direction and market we have chosen.
Our biggest weakness has been a lack of resources. At one point, we had to delay work for a week because we couldn’t afford to buy a jack to lift our vehicle.
But that experience is a daily reminder to not take anything for granted. It pushes us to seize every opportunity and make sure we don’t lose sight of the goal and work towards it every day.
To compensate for this lack of resources, we plan and prepare ourselves for as many things as possible. Every mistake made costs us money, time and resources, all three of which we don’t have in abundance.
Every team member knows how critical making the right decision is and collectively we strive to justify every decision with data and a plan. Our office is filled with whiteboards outlining everything from the different features we are working on and will need to work on in the future, to each task for each member for the whole week.
This foresight has definitely helped us accelerate a lot of the time-consuming aspects of building this technology, which is why we are at par with our global counterparts in under a year, despite being bootstrapped.
Where we are today
Today, we have grown to a team of 26, all working out of Bengaluru. Our test vehicle - The General Lee - has successfully completed Controlled Environment testing where we ran it through rigorous conditions and constraints.
Now we are preparing the hardware, software, and ourselves for real-time highway testing. This is a whole other beast and is a real trial by fire.
Controlled Environment testing and real-time testing are worlds apart - the number or parameters to keep account of are mind-boggling. But it’s a challenge we are sanguine about.
At the moment, we are also working with some of the world’s largest truck manufacturers and logistics companies. Partnerships like these are a massive validation of our direction so far, and a direct confirmation from the biggest players that the market wants what we are building.
Though we are currently funding this ourselves, we are looking to raise money now to help us get to the next stage, where we can continue building our technology and forging partnerships.
If you would like to join us on our journey, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)