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Drivent co-founders Eric Wengreen and Wes Schwie. (Drivent Photos)

Eric Wengreen and Wes Schwie are engineers and entrepreneurs who were searching for an opportunity to build something meaningful after developing and scaling a line of electronics mounting devices at Innovelis.

While researching opportunities, they were struck by the statistics on car crash fatalities.

“We also learned that around 94 percent of car accidents are caused by human errors that could be eliminated by self-driving vehicles,” Schwie said.

It seemed like a great opportunity but the duo quickly learned that they were entering a crowded field. There were already a number of companies working on the self-driving collision problem.

“We didn’t want our work to be redundant,” Wengreen said. They realized that “there were many non-collision barriers to the adoption of self-driving vehicles that were still unsolved.”

That realization was the catalyst for Drivent, a startup based in Bellevue, Wash., that’s coming out of stealth mode this week. Schwie and Wengreen left day-to-day operations at Innovelis and launched Drivent in 2016. Since then, the company has been developing a suite of technology products designed to solve problems with autonomous vehicles as they become mainstream. They include:

  • Fire detection technology that automatically pulls the vehicle over to let riders exit
  • Communication software that connects riders with human operators when necessary
  • Anti-smoking technology
  • A system that can detect phone issues, like a dying battery, and adjust accordingly by pre-determining a pick-up location or reaching out to an emergency contact
  • Software that helps autonomous vehicles predict when and where passengers will want a ride

The products and services Drivent is developing can be integrated into the systems of larger players in the autonomous vehicle market.

“Drivent’s future customers are all companies that make self-driving vehicles and all companies that make apps for self-driving vehicles,” Wengreen sid.

The startup is operating in a market eager to embrace autonomous vehicle technology. Bellevue is planning to launch a new service for commuters that uses autonomous vehicles. The city is seeking private funding to test autonomous vehicles along fixed routes downtown at low speeds. The launch date is dependent on fundraising but officials hope to launch tests during the final quarter of 2019.

Drivent has five employees and has raised investment, but Wengreen declined to provide details about total funding to date or the company’s backers. It’s one of a handful of companies that received approval from Washington state officials to test autonomous vehicle technologies. Other approved companies include Waymo, NVIDIA, and TORC Robotics.

Wengreen says he isn’t aware of any other companies that directly compete with Drivent by offering the same products.

“Other self-driving technology companies could see our technologies and then decide to create related technologies that build on what we have created,” he said.

“We see the companies in the autonomous industry as potential collaborators, not as competitors,” Wengreen added.

Another Seattle-area startup, Mighty AI, is also working on technology for autonomous vehicles but it’s less focused on the in-car experience. Mighty AI provides training data for computer vision, which autonomous vehicles use to “see.”

“Ultimately, the Seattle area will be home to many important autonomous vehicle companies,” Wengreen said.

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