Forget dot coms and social networks. The hotspot for research and investment in Silicon Valley right now is the future of transport. Convince the valley you have a new way to create a brain for a self-driving car, help people find parking, detect a drowsy driver, or build a personal electric plane, and you’ll find yourself showered in VC funding.
That explains the madness of the above chart (desktop users: mouse over for a zoomed in view). The “Future of Transportation Stack,” produced by VC firm Comet Labs, counts 263 companies, most of which you’ve probably never heard of, all of them vying to cash in on the nascent automotive revolution.
“We really wanted to make a comprehensive list of AI startups in this space, and also the enabling technologies,” says Taylor Stewart, who heads up transportation at Comet Labs. She spent weeks poring over company data to find the most interesting, based on criteria like employees, interaction with academia and universities, valuation, and approach to whatever problem they’re targeting. “We’re sure there’s some people we’ve missed globally, but this is our research into who’s taking a unique approach to the problems.”
The stack functions as a mix of shopping list and how-to guide for autonomous cars. Start at the bottom and grab the sensors that will let your car see the world: lidar, cameras, radar. The autonomy bit comes in the middle of the stack because you need more than driving skills to win this game. The top rung goes to the startups with ideas on how to make driverless cars useful, secure, and profitable. That’s where you’ll find Uber and Lyft, along with lesser known folks like RideCell, which works with mass transit agencies.
Of course this chart only gives one layer of information—that these companies exist. Under the calm surface of a neatly ordered diagram, the picture is more complex, because these companies are all interacting with each other, and the larger, more established car companies.
The transportation industry is reforming and reinventing itself to accommodate these changes, through mergers, acquisitions, and collaborations at an incredible pace. Look at GM’s purchase of Cruise Automation, or Ford’s heavy investment in artificial intelligence startup Argo AI. Trying to represent that, assuming you could get the often secret data, is a near-impossible task. “It would be a spider web all over,” says Stewart.
Just don’t bother committing the chart to memory. This field is changing so fast, it will be out of date within a few months, as companies fail, merge, get snapped up, and emerge. And if you think you have an idea that isn’t represented, Comet wants to hear from you. Now’s the chance to make your millions, in Silicon Valley’s latest tech boom.