The autonomous vehicle The industry is dominated by rumors of robotic axles, self-driving trucks, curbside delivery robots and passenger cars like Teslas with automated driving functions. You know, the sexy side of autonomy.
Not much thought has gone into the kind of autonomy Steer Tech, a Maryland-based AV startup, is pursuing — something the company’s founder and CEO, Anuja Sonalker, calls “endpoint autonomy.”
Since its inception in 2016, Steer has focused on providing high-level autonomy to valet parking, a bit of technology that it has quietly monetized by selling to automakers.
Steer is now extending that use case to the commercial sector through a partnership with Dallas Fort Worth International Airport that will demonstrate how an automated parking ecosystem can reduce congestion in pick-up and drop-off areas.
The pilot combines low-speed automated valet parking, a supervisory parking management system, and a digital curbside management system. It will test passenger cars equipped with Steer’s AV software and sensor suite.
Steer aims to bring this ecosystem to the end point of the logistics supply chain.
“We are focused on the depot side, while others are focused on the long term, and you need both if you want to do end-to-end autonomy,” Sonalker told Marketingwithanoy. “No one is going to fix everything. Everyone is going to master one area and then work with others to create that end-to-end ecosystem.”
For most hackers, it’s not about the target they’re trying to break through; it’s about using that goal as a springboard to something else. Anuja Sonalker, Founder and CEO, Steer Tech
Sonalker hasn’t cut its teeth on solving low-speed, private-space operational design domains. The founder spent three years at R&D company Batelle, where she led the automotive cyber innovation unit, which was later spun off and subsequently acquired by Honeywell. She then established and led the North American operations of TowerSec, an Israeli automotive cybersecurity startup that was eventually acquired by Harman.
We spoke to Sonalker to talk about the importance of cybersecurity in the automotive industry, how automating the ‘endpoint’ can make freight more efficient, and why focusing on less glamorous technology can help you build better products.
The following interview, part of an ongoing series featuring founders building transportation companies, has been edited for length and clarity.
TC: Steer is the third startup you’ve been involved with, and the previous two have been acquired. Is that the purpose of this one?
Anuja Sonalker: With the previous ventures I will say that it was not the intention to be acquired, but that is how the timing worked out. What I learned from the other previous startups was that the plan needs to be bigger. You have to have a vision of where you are going, and that vision has to be strong and able to withstand any kind of upheaval, such as a pandemic, your way.
If there is a takeover, it will happen. You can’t stop it; it really is the timing. But I didn’t start with that goal. My goal here is to build a product. The last two startups focused on cybersecurity in the automotive industry. This time, cybersecurity is an important part of the technology, but not the whole.
What do you think is the biggest pain point in automotive cybersecurity?
It has changed with time. When I started in this area, the real problem was denial and not realizing that there was a cybersecurity problem, so these vehicles were much more vulnerable. Humans were able to exploit those vulnerabilities and demonstrate attacks on vehicles that ranged from a nuisance to critical to security. Back then, the ability to detect vulnerabilities was very important.
Then it changed to, “Okay, now that we’ve found out, we need to do something about it.” It has turned into prevention. The industry has experienced a tectonic shift in cybersecurity. Every automaker realizes that it’s not about whether we’re hackable or vulnerable – anything and everyone, given the time and resources, is permeable.
So it’s about finding out that we’re being attacked and how we can change that. The idea is to increase the internal resistance of your vehicles, and now it really comes down to designing the right amount of cybersecurity in your vehicles. Not too much and not too little.