Starsky Robotics is a self-driving truck company that was the first company to run an unmanned semi on a public highway. It’s now shutting down though, and its co-founder has some unusually sensible and honest things to say about the industry, unusual only because the industry is stuffed with charlatans.
Stefan Seltz-Axmacher co-founded Starsky around four years ago, eventually equipping a fleet of three tractor-trailers with self-driving equipment, making them capable of navigating private truck yards and, once, nine miles of a Florida highway.
Those might seem like modest accomplishments, but they were almost intentionally so, Seltz-Axmacher told Automotive News in an exit interview of sorts. That’s because the company placed a big emphasis on safety, which, shockingly, wasn’t popular with investors.
While competitors expended effort adding machine learning-based features such as enabling trucks to change lanes on their own, Seltz-Axmacher said he threw resources into safety engineering. The company was the first autonomous trucking company to submit a Voluntary Safety Self Assessment to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
But a problem emerged: that safety focus didn’t excite investors. Venture capitalists, Seltz-Axmacher said, had trouble grasping why the company expended massive resources preparing, validating and vetting his system, then preparing a backup system, before the initial unmanned test run. That work essentially didn’t matter when he went in search of more funding.