The race to develop self-driving cars is on with big players like Google, Uber and Tesla in the game. But a lesser-known Atlanta based company, Wheego Technologies, is also poised to compete.
Lead by Mike McQuary, CEO and former President of MindSpring/EarthLink, Wheego’s team works on emerging vehicle technologies in artificial intelligence/machine learning, self-driving vehicles, and connected devices for home, business and roadway.
“I want the best and the brightest to know that there is a company right here in Atlanta that is going to help change the world for the better,” McQuary said.
Atlanta is the headquarters for Wheego’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) development team while all electric vehicle (EV) and automotive work is done in Sonoma, CA.
McQuary founded the company in 2008, originally named Wheego Electric Cars Inc., to produce small EVs. Its Wheego LiFe sold 400 cars in the U.S., but in 2014, Wheego decided to switch gears and focus on autonomous vehicle development rather than EV production.
“Continuing to make and sell EV’s would require a lot of capital without a defensible competitive advantage in the long run,” McQuary explained. “However, I believe we are one of the best in the world at creating an AI platform that will deliver products to change people’s lives.”
With this change came a new name – Wheego Technologies, Inc. – and a team of industry experts in AI, networked communications and autonomous driving technologies.
“We have created an AI platform and our first product is an Advanced Driver Assistance System. The highest level of which is self-driving cars. It is one of the greatest challenges for AI because of the complexity of recognizing all of the stimuli in the environment around a vehicle that is moving and translating it all into driving maneuvers that are safe,” McQuary said.
Last fall, the California Department of Motor Vehicles awarded Wheego a permit to test its autonomous systems on public roads in California. It can run tests with a single vehicle and four drivers.
When will self-driving cars reach Atlanta? McQuary is optimistic that the promise of alleviating traffic congestion will motivate our city and state government to support these technological advances.
“The City of Atlanta is being very ambitious in their desire to test this technology and the state of Georgia is also showing early signs of legislative support for autonomous cars,” he said.
McQuary is using the same foresight that lead him to create MindSpring (which later merged with EarthLink) more than 20 years ago. The extremely successful Internet business had more than 5 million subscribers and 5,000 employees.
“AI in 20 years will be woven into the fabric of our lives as the Internet is today. A very near term simple example: your AI system knows that you set your alarm for 6:30 a.m. to wake and take your kids to school and get to the office on time. It realizes on a particular day that a traffic accident has occurred and it changes your alarm to wake you up 30 minutes earlier so you can still make your itinerary on time,” McQuary said.
For this entrepreneur, lessons learned at MindSpring will propel Wheego forward in a very competitive environment. Namely, how a company “treats their customers, employees, and investors, provides a real and meaningful competitive differentiation. That small smart companies can beat large corporations. That the best and the brightest coming out of college want to work where they can make a difference and change the world.”