The 12 Automotive Startups to Watch in 2019

Meet automotive startups looking to transform the industry with new vehicles, better sensing, improved tracking, a new addressing system, and even brain scanning.
  • The automotive space isn't just about new vehicles anymore. More and more startups are appearing around servicing the new economy around connected vehicles and the anticipation around autonomous vehicles. Many companies are rethinking cars and trucks, less as modes of transportation and more as mobile services and platforms.

    With that in mind we've highlighted 12 automotive startup companies that made a big impression in 2018 and are poised to have a big impact in 2019 and beyond as the automotive space continues to redefine itself.

    Click through the image above to start the slideshow.

  • AEye

    Many autonomous and connected vehicles rely on LiDAR for navigation. But LiDAR alone is not enough. Aeye's solution, iDAR (short for Intelligent Detection and Ranging), aims to solve the processing time and computing power issues inherent in LiDAR sensor implementations. iDAR combines a solid-state agile LiDAR, with a low-light HD camera and computer vision artificial intelligence to speed up a vehicle's perception system. According to the company, iDAR can increase perception speeds by up to 10 times and reduce power consumption by five to 10 times. In a recent performance tests monitored and validated by VSI Labs, one of the nation’s leading automated vehicle technology advisors, AEye’s iDAR system detected and tracked a truck from one kilometer away, a distance four to five times beyond what current LiDAR systems are able to detect.  

    (Image source: AEye)

  • Affectiva

    Affectiva's goal is to add an emotional component to your vehicle. The company's Emotional AI system is capable of recognizing a range of human emotions, including anger and drowsiness, via a video camera system mounted into the interior of the car. The ultimate aim is to allow cars to respond in a variety of ways based on the emotions of the driver and passengers. A vehicle could automatically adjust temperature or play soothing music depending on a driver's mood. And in extreme situations an autonomous vehicle could someday pull over to the road and alert EMTs if it detects a emergency with the driver such as a heart attack or fainting.

    (Image source: Affectiva)

  • Byton

    One of the critical darlings of the 2018 LA Show, Byton doesn't consider itself to be in the automotive business, but rather in the business of creating “mobility platforms.” The company designs autonomous cars intended to function less like modes of transportation and more like mobile offices and workspaces. Aside from the attractive aesthetics that won over LA Auto Show attendees, one of the core features of the company's M-Byte concept car is an all glass cockpit (shown) that replaces the buttons and knobs on the dashboard with an entirely screen-based interface.

    The glass cockpit allows all dashboard functions and more to be controlled via, touch, voice, and even air gestures. At the LA Auto Show Byton also showcased a second concept car, the K-Byte, a level 4 autonomous vehicle. The Chinese company is currently testing the M-Byte in real world road conditions and has established offices in Los Angeles, Santa Clara, Munich, Hong Kong, and Beijing with the aim of rolling out vehicles in the US and Europe in the next two to three years.

    (Image source: Byton)

  • Carmera

    Camera focuses on the infrastructure needed to help autonomous vehicles navigate as accurately as possible. The company has developed an HD mapping suite for autonomous cars. The company leverages crowdsourced vehicle sensor data to create a continuously updating 3D map for autonomous vehicles that can be used for navigation, site intelligence analytics for infrastructure planning, and fleet tracking. Carmera was one of the top three finalists of the LA Auto Show's  2018 Top Ten Automotive Startups Competition. Earlier this year, Carmera announced a partnership with Voyage to provide mapping services for autonomous taxis in Florida.

    (Image source: Carmera)

  • DarwinAI

    You can't talk about autonomous cars without discussing artificial intelligence, specifically deep learning. All those neural networks to management the vision, natural language processing, and other functions necessary for self-driving vehicles to work require a lot of processing power as well as a lot of storage capacity. DarwinAI is a deep learning software company that wants to make deep learning a less intensive processing by optimizing algorithms and neural networks.


    In short, feed DarwinAI a neural network and it will return you a simpler, but just as effective version of it. The company's proprietary, optimization method, the Generative Synthesis platform, goes beyond compression and utilizes weight pruning and weight precision reduction techniques to create more compact neural networks. The approach also enhances what the company calls the “explainability” of the neural network – allowing developers to more easily understand how a neural network functions and why it makes the decisions it does. While the company's methods could be applied across a variety of industries, DarwinAI's work is particularly interesting for the autonomous vehicle space, where efficiency, accuracy, and speed are crucial for the software systems underlying the vehicle.

    (Image source: DarwinAI)

  • Electric Vision Aircrafts (EVA)

    Perhaps where we're going we don't need roads? The X01 from French startup Electric Vision Aircrafts (EVA) isn't a car or truck, it's a small electric plane – essentially a flying car. Capable of vertical take off and landing, the X01 is a two-passenger electric plane boasting a speed of 400 kilometers per hour (about 249 miles per hour). It is also equipped with radar, LiDAR, and 12 cameras to enable fully autonomous flight (the max speed in autonomous mode is 250 kilometers per hour or roughly 155 miles per hour). According to company specs the X01 is compact enough to fit into any parking space (it measures 5 x 2 meters with its wings folded in), and runs as silent as an electric vehicle, making it inaudible while flying. Safety features also include a built-in parachute. The X01 is not yet in production and no official release date has been announced, but the company is currently taking vehicle reservations for anyone willing to pay the roughly $284,000 price tag.

    (Image source: EVA)

  • Freer Logic

    What if your car could read your mind? Freer Logic has created a contactless EEG/ECD sensor that can be embedded into the headrest of a vehicle. The Neurobiomonitor Headrest doesn't need to touch a driver and can monitor brainwaves from up to six to 10 inches from the head. The device is capable of recognizing fatigue, drowsiness, distraction, stress, relaxation, cognitive load, and other emotions via brainwaves and can then instruct a vehicle to act accordingly. Alerts can be made when a driver is falling asleep or the vehicle could issue a warning if a driver is showing signs of distraction, for example.

    (Image source: Freer Logic)

  • Metamoto

    Silicon Valley-based Metamoto is a simulation as a service company that validates software for autonomous vehicles. The company's proprietary platform allows OEMs to create test scenarios for autonomous vehicles and conduct them entirely in a virtual environment. This allows OEMs to test various sensors and software in their vehicles under a variety of road conditions without the time and expense of exhaustive real world testing. While simulation likely won't ever fully replace real-world road testing, virtual simulation services such as those offered by Metamoto will become increasingly important as OEMs look to quickly develop vehicles that can perform increasingly better in the robust and often unpredictable environments of real roads.

    (Image source: Metamoto)

  • Metawave

    Metawave is a startup focused on wireless communications technology with a particular emphasis on building intelligent radars for autonomous driving applications. The company's flagship radar product, Warlord, aims to make radar as good as LiDAR and camera systems at detecting objects, humans, and animals in the real world. According to the company, Warlord is able to detect the location and speeds of road objects in cluttered environments such as busy city streets as well as under all weather conditions.


    Warlord uses a millimeter wave beamstreaming technology developed by the company combined with a proprietary computer vision engine capable of extending the capabilities of the radar. Warlord's AI engine allows vehicles non-line of sight detection (essentially the ability to see around corners), the ability to predict traffic patterns, and also the ability to identify road hazards or dangerous driving conditions and alert nearby vehicles in the area as well.

    (Image source: Metawave)

  • Rivian

    Easily the most buzzed-about company at the 2018 LA Auto Show was Rivian, a Michigan-based startup that wants to do for pickup trucks and SUVs what Tesla did for luxury sedans. During the LA Auto Show the company unveiled the first two of its line of “Electric Adventure Vehicles,” the R1T, a five-passenger pickup truck, and the R1S (shown), a seven-passenger SUV.

    According to Rivian, both vehicles boast a range in excess of 400 miles, a top speed of 125 miles per hour, and 0-60 acceleration in about 3.2 seconds – all with a 180 kilowatt hour battery equipped. Both vehicles will also offer Level 3 autonomous driving.

    What's most unique about the vehicles is the company's “skateboard platform.” Rivian's vehicles maximize occupant and storage capacity by placing the  battery pack, drive units, suspension, braking, and thermal system all on a platform that rests below the height of the wheel – like a skateboard. Rivian is currently taking preorders on both the R1S and R1S, with expected delivery in the year 2020.

    (Image source: Rivian)

  • Thor Trucks

    The winner of the 2018  Top Ten Automotive Startups Competition at the LA Auto Show, Thor Trucks is focused on fleet management for semi-trucks. The company has crated a commercial viable electric trucking platform for short and medium range applications. Rather than focus on long haul trucking, Thor has opted to target applications like FedEx delivery, where routes are predictable, cover a range of 150 miles or less, and feature lots of starting and stopping. According to the company, its all-electric approach can save suppliers up to 50% in operational costs and allow them to avoid the work of having to conform to emissions standards. The company's flagship vehicle is the ET-One (shown), an all-electric semi-truck with a 300 mile range per charge, capable of carrying up to 80,000 pounds of load. Thor recently announced UPS as its first partner and customer. Under the partnership the UPS will be testing Thor's trucks in the Los Angeles area over the coming months.

    (Image source: Thor Trucks)

  • what3words

    Another top three finalist of LA Auto Show's 2018 Top Ten Automotive Startups Competition, London-based startup what3words believes our current addressing system – an often complex mashup of numbers and letters, has grown too unruly and inefficient for the coming world of connected and autonomous vehicles. Today the needs for precision in vehicle navigation are much greater than centuries ago, when our addressing systems were first created. The company's solution? Transform every location on the planet into a simple address made up of only three words.

    what3words has divided the world into 57 trillion 3 x 3-meter squares, each of which is identified with three keywords (the keywords have currently been translated to 26 languages and growing, according to the company). So instead of your current, long address you now live at ///goat.torch.things or // Maybe your parents' house is now ///limit.broom.flip.


    Equipped with what3words' system, autonomous vehicles, for example, would be able to drop off and pick up people and objects within meter-precision locations just from hearing three words. The company's website already allows anyone interested to look up their three-word location...And no, you cannot request a change of address if you don't like the three words.

    (Image source: what3words)


Chris Wiltz is a Senior Editor at  Design News  covering emerging technologies including AI, VR/AR, and robotics.

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