Live between Boston and Miami. It combines Latin flavor and knowledge with the historic cradle of innovation, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Ramiro Almeida (Quito, Ecuador, 1974) arrived there in 2013, after finishing his residency at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. During this experience he met Ryan Chin, today his partner in an adventure that looks to the future with imagination. Optimus Ride is your proposal to solve urban mobility. It has 80 employees, they hope to soon reach 100. So far they have gotten up 23.25 million dollars and now prepare a round B.
How did the idea of thinking about mobility, technology and cities arise?
It is a logical process. Cities face great challenges in terms of security, water management, energy … One of the most complex issues is mobility, the transport of people and goods. Ryan, creator of MIT's CityScience, had been researching it for more than a decade. He had already developed the prototype of the first transformable electric car with General Motors, the MIT CityCar. By transformable it is understood that it could be folded to occupy less physical space to park, using robotic systems. It was something totally innovative that had not been touched with such depth.
What is your final goal?
To be leaders in designing and developing systems for driverless vehicles that operate through a global technological platform for georeferenced spaces efficiently.
What is a geo-referenced space?
They are specific vehicles for the space defined by which they want to move. That's why accurate measurement and data handling of the entire surface is necessary for vehicles to move safely. We specialize in this. Other companies opt for more open versions.
What difference there are?
Our vehicles can not take you from Times Square (New York) to Harvard Square (Boston), but very accurately for around one of those spaces. We need to georeference each of these spaces with a proper fusion and comparison of data from different sensors located around the vehicle, which is possible with high definition in a limited space. Only in the US there are some 150,000 specific cases where we can already have georeferenced spaces. From communities, public areas, ports, airports, city centers or smart cities projects in development.
How do you manage to capture the data?
With 100% technology developed by us. It is a fusion of sensors, cameras, computers and circuits that allow us to access data with great depth and resolution. We need to go through the reference space with our own fleet. The process is repetitive and benefits and learns from the processing of all that amount of data that is captured in very high definition.
Why do they have a car of their own?
We have our fleet. This allows the flexibility we need for the development of the system. At the same time, while the system operates, the algorithms learn, take datasets of high resolution information. It is a dynamic process and every physical detail of the environment is very valuable for the development of the system.
That's why the Google car was so many laps around San Francisco?
Yes, to learn well every detail of that specific environment where they developed their first prototypes.
Are the Optimus Ride systems compatible with other proposals?
Our systems have two advantages: they are designed to be integrated or adapted to any vehicle and by the way we develop the algorithms we think that they can be understood with other systems. This is going to be very important because the mobility procedures are going to have different components. We are working to be leaders in one of those components, which are georeferenced spaces.
Geo-referenced vehicles are specific to the space defined by which they want to move. We have specialized in this "
When Google engineer Anthony Levandowski moved to Uber there was controversy over the data that was carried about Lidar. Why is this sensor essential?
Through the sending of laser, very precise physical information is gathered from the environment in which we are navigating. It is a key sensor today, but we are constantly evolving. Every time there are more and better components with great capacity.
How does it affect being on the East Coast to launch projects?
Being in Boston is a strategic decision and has its advantages over Silicon Valley. The five founders have been an integral part of MIT and we have a lot of experience working with the Institute and other entities in the area. This allows us to have first-hand access to the talent and research that takes place in the city, which is a very important asset for the company. The decision was influenced by the opportunity to capture the best talent. A very high percentage of this talent comes from the classrooms of the universities around the city. It is ideal. There are some 64 universities in the area. We have a flow of talent and research at first hand.
Do you notice the competition with Silicon Valley?
Yes in terms of capturing talent and capital. Many companies have ambitious financing plans.
Are humans the great impediment to the broad adoption of the car without a driver?
I think there are more challenges. The technology has been developing for only a decade. It started with the challenge of DARPA, the US defense agency, that was the catalyst. Perhaps one of the most interesting points is how society has been preparing. Some people feel comfortable and some feel threatened.
What do you think of the Tesla autopilot?
Tesla has developed a great product. It is the one that formally initiates the transformation of an industry. For almost half a century there was no innovation. Tesla has been consolidated with a great product, capabilities and experience for the exceptional user. You have to recognize it. As for the autopilot, what you have is a prototype that is in the testing stage. The user uses it at his own risk.
How do you rate Google's progress?
Without a doubt, he is a leader in this field. It is the company that has invested the most in this. It is in the forefront. It has a fairly large fleet of vehicles. Many of us are attentive to how they evolve.
Your car project without a driver is more complicated. It is a company that has gone through difficult times. Perhaps what was one of the most ambitious projects, now does not seem to be your priority. It is not clear what they will do with their research laboratories.
The traditional industry, with Ford, GM, Toyota or Volvo has also added to the trend. What role do they play?
The development and research of this technology has required a lot of capital. Between all they have invested between 80,000 and 100,000 million dollars. This validates the fact that society is ready. You have been lucky enough to try these vehicles. It is no longer science fiction, it is a reality.
Can this model be carried beyond the US?
Yes of course. There are no barriers with this technology. In the US, Europe and Asia is where it develops the most.
How do you imagine the city in 10 years?
We have to reflect on how technology is going to influence life in cities. As a society we must control the risks so that the balance for human beings is positive. I think 2019 will be the year we see some city zones with driverless cars giving users access.