Princeton Professor Quits Job to Challenge Tech Giants With Self-Driving Car Startup
Princeton University’s Dr. Jianxiong Xiao decided to quit being a professor last year to pursue an ambitious startup that would soon pit him against established tech giants battling for superiority in the self-driving car industry.
Known among his students and peers as “Professor X”, the brilliant computer vision professor and founding director of Princeton’s Computer Vision and Robotics Labs had begun setting his sights in developing self-driving cars for cheap.
After raising some seed funding, he and his family all moved from New Jersey to Silicon Valley where he began working on his startup, AutoX.
In the first few months, not much was heard about the project except when Xiao filed a request to test self-driving vehicles with the California DMV.
Suddenly, his then-secret venture officially became a competitor of industry leaders like Tesla, Waymo, Uber, and other firms which are similarly developing self-driving car technology.
Professor X isn’t shying away from the competition, though. Xiao is confident that his small but brilliant team of academics have enough talent and focus to still maneuver the tide in their favor.
Among AutoX’s accomplishments, Xiao says, is that within just 6 months, they were able to create a prototype vehicle that already matches cars created by billion-dollar rivals in terms of capabilities. More importantly, they completed it at a much lower cost.
While the majority of its competitors use the now standard LIDAR laser arrays or other sensor technologies, AutoX uses advanced artificial intelligence to “see” through the cameras mounted on the car and steer the car effectively.
Since cameras are much cheaper than radar antennas and lidar sensors, AutoX was able to keep the costs down.
Xiao told Business Insider that they used a few $50 cameras from Best Buy for their first prototype which used a 2017 Lincoln MKZ equipped with AutoX technology, to develop their computer vision and self-driving software.
Six months later, the team was able to make huge developments in image processing and autonomous driving decision-making.
The latest prototype was recently unveiled via a video demo last Friday. In the clip, the technology is shown off by having the vehicle navigate residential streets.
One thing it did exceptionally well was its handling of challenging driving situations that have been historically a problem for self-driving cars, such as cloudy days and nighttime conditions.
The team of AutoX is currently composed of around 20 people who are mostly computer vision experts from companies like Apple, Magic Leap, and Microsoft.
Xiao told Business Insider that he does not intend to create a vehicle from the ground up. He explained that the team’s plan is to work with car manufacturers to license self-driving software suites based on their computer vision technology.
“Self-driving [cars] shouldn’t just be a luxury, but be available to every citizen,” Xiao was quoted as saying.
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