Pioneering the robotic shuttle market: An interview with Sensible 4

Courtesy of Sensible 4

In the past few years a few start-ups have emerged to offer a new mobility solution based on autonomous driving (AD) capabilities. Those efforts are mainly driven by passionate roboticists. Yole Développement’s (Yole) Pierre Cambou, Imaging Principal Analyst, had the opportunity to interview Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4, to exemplify this early market development. Yole’s complete analysis, “Sensors for Robotic Mobility 2020”, is available for more details.

2017-2032 Robotic vehicle roll-out scenario - Yole Développement

Pierre Cambou (PC): Sensible 4 is known for its presentation of a shuttle bus concept at the end of 2018. Could you tell us more about the company’s development status and your next milestones?

Harri Santamala (HS): Sensible 4 was founded in February 2017 as an answer to the problem of bad weather. Bad weather has been one of the key problems for autonomous vehicles to this point. And we thought we could solve it.

We are currently talking to several manufacturers in Europe and Asia about starting a partnership to build GACHA shuttle buses. There are a couple of existing, well-known candidates, but we cannot go into any details at this point. During 2020 we will make a development fleet of 4-6 new vehicles, which should be available at the end of the year. The development fleet will be an improvement of the current GACHA, with iterations and improvements based on the feedback and testing we did in 2019.

The plan is to continue piloting in Finland as well as in other locations in the world. In 2021 we’re aiming to have GACHA commercially available.

PC: Early on only a handful of companies were choosing the robotic shuttle format. Now that Cruise presented the Origin do you think the market is changing direction?

HS: As full Level 5 autonomy is still years away, it’s clear that commercially-feasible autonomy is easier to achieve with relatively closed domains, like shuttle buses in urban and semi-urban areas. This has been clear to us all the time and we believe other companies are now ending up with the same conclusion.

PC: What is your expectation in term of market development for robotic vehicles in the next five-to-ten years, and what will be the role of Sensible 4 in that market?

HS: The technology and also our society are developing fast, and events such as the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrate how difficult it is to predict the future. Within five years we’ll see first commercial, everyday autonomous shuttle buses on our streets within five years. Also closed areas such as ports and mines are going to be increasingly automated. In ten years we will see autonomous vehicles expand to logistics and autonomous shuttle buses on larger scale.

GACHA 1 MUJI Sensible4
Courtesy of Sensible 4

YD: Sensible 4 worked heavily on the design side with Japan-based MUJI. Do you think acceptability is somewhat of an issue to be addressed with design?

HS: Trust and the way people perceive autonomous vehicles is, of course, super important for the whole industry. The software we’ve created, which GACHA runs on, was designed to provide a smooth, frictionless experience for its passengers. We’ve worked on getting rid of jerky, rough movements, sudden braking, and so on – all things that have been common with other autonomous shuttles. And the feedback we’ve got so far is very positive. This was actually one of the reasons we started Sensible 4. We knew we could do it a lot better than what was already out there. When it comes to other design considerations, I think MUJI’s design team can better answer those. But from our side, it was making the user experience a central part of the software design process.

YD: You currently have operations in Japan and Europe. Is that because public transportation is better-established in those markets?

HS: Our company was founded in Finland and the team has a long history of research done here. Our main investors are from Japan. These are probably the reasons for Finland and Japan seem to pop up as our main operational locations. But in addition to these, we’re active in other countries too. We will tell more about these projects as soon as we can.

YD: Are there still a lot of technological hurdles before this market can really take off? What are the last challenges?

HS: We have the main components of autonomous driving in a good state. The main tasks before commercialization are finalization of the infrastructure, such as smart traffic lights, to support autonomous driving and also some details in our own autonomous software.

YD: The game in the robotic vehicle field will also revolve around the ability to establish massive fleets of vehicle using high-end sensors and supercomputer capabilities. Who do you think will win at this game? Will it be car makers, internet giants like Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, (GAFA) and Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent and Xiaomi (BATX), start-ups, or others?

HS: Transition to autonomous transportation will take years, if not centuries. Over that period there will be many winners, depending on the stage of transition. Such transportation will eventually become nearly emission free, cheaper and more convenient than owning a car. Therefore the winners are the people and the planet we live on. Many companies, regardless their location or size, will be able to develop their own offering to serve the needs of customers. And for sure, GAFA and BATX will find a way to create business on autonomous technologies.

YD: Is robotic vehicle technology a game changer for the world?

HS: Yes and no. As mentioned earlier, the transition period to general autonomous transportation will take a very long time. In a way it will change the way we live and move ourselves and things and we could call that a game changer. But as transition will happen gradually, there will not be one moment of turning to autonomous transportation. Other sectors of technology and society will also develop further.


Harri Santamala Sensible4 CEO

Harri Santamala, CEO and CO-founders of Sensible 4. Sensible 4 is a Finnish self-driving technology company developing full-stack software for autonomous vehicles. Their unique technology combines information from multiple sensors (sensor fusion), allowing their self-driving cars to operate even in the most challenging of weather conditions. Sensible 4 recently raised $7 Million from Japanese tech investors in their Series A round.


Pierre Cambou, Yole Développement

Pierre Cambou MSc, MBA, is a Principal analyst in the Photonic and Display Division at Yole Développement (Yole). Pierre’s mission is dedicated to imaging related activities by providing market & technology analyses along with strategy consulting services to semiconductor companies. He is responsible for the CIS Quarterly Market Monitor while he has authored more than 15 Yole Market & Technology reports. He has been deeply involved in the design of early mobile camera modules and the introduction of 3D semiconductor approaches to CMOS Image Sensors (CIS). Known as an expert in the imaging industry, he is regularly interviewed and quoted by leading international media. Pierre has an Engineering degree from Université de Technologie de Compiègne (France) and a Master of Science from Virginia Tech. (VA, USA), Pierre also graduated with an MBA from Grenoble Ecole de Management (France).

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