Perrone Robotics began by automating consumer cars. Now it’s focusing on niche applications instead
Like early mammals scuttering between the legs of tyrannosaurs, a lot of little companies are trying to weave around—and maybe even outlast—the big boys of self-driving technology.
One such example is Perrone Robotics, a small Virginia company that has developed a self-driving package that it says can be quickly adapted to any vehicle. This Swiss Army knife of an AI can give smarts to an existing car, shuttle bus, or truck—even the gargantuan trucks used in mining. Tiny shuttles and behemoth trucks sell in small numbers, and equipping them to drive themselves is beneath the dignity of major players, like Alphabet’s Waymo and General Motors’ Cruise Automation.
“What we’re doing, certainly Waymo and GM Cruise could do, but they are focused on their own agenda. This is our niche, and we are going where we can add real value,” says David Hofert, the chief marketing officer at Perrone Robotics.
The company predates today’s craze for self-driving technology. It had self-driving prototypes running around its headquarters in Crozet, Va., in the early 1990s, and it was among the original participants in the DARPA Grand Challenges that sparked the robocar revolution. When IEEE Spectrum last wrote about Perrone, in 2015, it was showing off a package that could be quickly dropped into an existing car, using external actuators to turn the steering wheel and depress the accelerator and brake pedals.
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