Waymo drops patent claims against Uber. LeEco founder resigns. SAIC, AImotive get AV permits.
The grant game
Torc Robotics is the latest startup to unveil its self-driving car system, with the Virginia-based outfit making an automotive push to serve OEMs and suppliers amid the frothy AV market.
Unlike many of the space’s newest entrants, Torc has been working on AV tech for over a decade, with core Torc personnel participating in the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge. Torc subsequently received several Department of Defense grants for military applications of its tech.
Various government grants and programs have played an important role supporting developments in hard sciences, as my colleague Nikhil has pointed out with NIH grants. Autonomous and electric vehicle tech has certainly benefitted; a deal search on our platform turns up nearly 100 grants made in these fields by the US DoD, DoE, DARPA, and other international agencies.
The US government has been criticized for losing bets, particularly with DoE-funded EV and cleantech flameouts early this decade (see: Fisker, A123, Solyndra). Despite this, the much-maligned DoE loan program has seen interest payments eclipse loan losses as energy projects have come online.
Even though individual companies have failed, government programs played an important role nurturing these technologies in their infancy and bringing them closer to commercial viability (after all, even VCs have finite return horizons).
For the AV industry in particular, the early DARPA Grand Challenges were seminal events. Poking around the teams that attended the 2007 Urban Challenge turns up a who’s who of today’s AV founders and star engineers.
Facebook’s solar-powered drone program is marching forward, with the company’s Aquila drone successfully completing its second test flight without crash-landing. The company’s patent activity has reflected the ramp-up of its drone research, with a new filing describing the potential use of lasers to remotely supply power to overhead drones (see the patent search here).
This concept could be a boon to Facebook’s project, which aims to develop high-endurance drones that can loiter for months while delivering internet access to users below (Google has similar airborne broadband projects that we explored in our Google Strategy Teardown).