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Are automated vehicles just around the corner?

Mark Parker



Cathie Wood, founder and CEO of St. Petersburg-based ARK Invest, and Reilly Brennan, founding partner at Trucks Venture Capital (left), at the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit. Photo by Mark Parker.

Cathie Wood believes autonomous taxis will cruise city streets in 2024, and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles will ferry passengers through the air by 2028.

Wood, founder and CEO of ARK Invest, also expects a Tesla electric vehicle (EV) – now over $40,000 for a bare-bones model – to cost around $15,000 in five years. The prominent, St. Petersburg-based investor made those bold claims Thursday evening at the 11th annual Florida Automated Vehicles (FAV) Summit.

Reilly Brennan, founding partner at Trucks Venture Capital, moderated the discussion at the Tampa Water Street Mariott. He noted that ARK began amassing Tesla stock in 2014 and said Wood “represents today’s technology sector and where it’s heading.”

“She’s not always right,” Brennan added. “But she’s not always wrong, either.”

ARK focuses on five innovation sectors that Wood said are simultaneously evolving: Robotics, energy storage, artificial intelligence (AI), genomics and blockchain technologies. She said automated taxis – whether terrestrial, like Tesla’s ongoing initiative, or through the air with eVTOLS – meld the first three.

Wood believes autonomous taxi platforms will go from no revenue today to generating between $8 and $10 trillion in five to 10 years. That is not a market valuation, she said, that is earned income from ferrying passengers.

“And it’s a ‘winner-take-most’ world, too, with anything involving AI,” Wood said. “The company that gets a real autonomous taxi platform that takes a person from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible is probably going to win the lion’s share of the market.

“Of course, we think that company in the U.S. is probably Tesla.”

Data and computing power are two critical facets of the autonomous mobility industry. Wood said that now doubles in less than a year.

In addition, costs plummet as technology matures. The first CD players and flat-screen TVs are prime examples.

Wood said AI training costs drop 70% annually. Increasing affordability will allow consumers to take autonomous or air taxis for the same price as a traditional cab or Uber.

She noted that the Federal Aviation Administration has reversed course and is now working with eVTOL companies. Tampa International Airport (TPA) officials continue including air taxis in planning initiatives.

Tampa International Airport officials have spent years preparing for autonomous transportation options. Screengrab.

Pete Ricondo, an airport consultant, recently said the piloted eVTOLS could begin taking off from TPA vertiports by 2025. Wood encouraged attendees, particularly young entrepreneurs, to focus on AI and autonomous mobility software.

“The most important decision you have to make is to make sure you’re on the right side of change,” Wood added. “With the traditional (vehicle) sector – there’s going to be a lot of carnage.”

When it comes to autonomous terrestrial taxis, data is king. She explained that companies must collect “quirky” data irreplicable on a track or in a warehouse.

Wood said Tesla collects two million miles of real-world driving data daily. She also said investors who believe the EV maker is an automotive company have “missed the mark completely.”

Wood called Tesla a robotics, energy storage, AI and software-as-a-service technology company. She and Brennan believe software upgrades and licensing will become its primary revenue source, allowing Tesla – much like desktop computer manufacturers – to slash vehicle prices.

The company continues developing its self-driving semis, and Brennan noted trucking is a $700 billion industry. Wood believes it will cost just three cents per mile to haul freight by autonomous semis, compared to four cents for rail and seven cents for traditional trucks.

While Elon Musk, president and CEO of Tesla, has repeatedly promised his autonomous taxis would hit the road “by the end of the year,” Wood believes the moment is finally arriving. She said ARK recently heard that the company is hiring ride-hailing experts in various cities.

“It seems like they’re gearing up … we think it will be next year,” Wood said. “I think it’s going to be wonderfully fun because it’s all about what we’re (ARK) doing. But it’s going to be very disorienting, I think, to a lot of investors.”




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1 Comment

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    John Donovan

    September 8, 2023at3:31 pm

    The robot-taxis in San Fran are not being well received by residents. Lets see what happens.

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