(TNS) — A San Jose startup is rethinking the way groups travel: Picture a long string of connected pods that can drive themselves.
Next Future Transportation says it’s developing a modular transportation system, consisting of individual pod vehicles that connect and disconnect with one another to get people from place to place. Think of railcars that link up to form a train, but smaller and with rubber wheels for roads.
CEO Emmanuele Spera imagines a string of pods starting off at an airport, collecting passengers who are assigned seats based on their final destinations. Following an algorithmically determined route, the pods would proceed for a ways, then disconnect and take separate routes to local hotels. Likewise, public buses formed from the pods can easily adjust their size depending on the time of day and anticipated demand.
Spera’s vision is for smart cities to have fleets of these autonomous pods swarming around. Some would have up to 10 seats, while others might include dining and beverage units, nap cabins and more.
It sounds futuristic, but the company will be starting a pilot project in Dubai in February, Spera said. That will be self-driving, because it’s in a controlled environment, Spera said, but he expects the first commercial order will require human drivers.
The company is trending on startup database Crunchbase because it has been generating buzz in the Middle East from media outlets and potential partners, Spera said. The company has also been testing units in Italy, where its engineering team is based.
Next Future Transportation has raised about $150,000 from Spera himself and through crowdfunding on StartEngine. Its first patent was granted in April.
The company still has a homegrown feel to it. A full-scale module is parked outside Spera’s home in San Jose, and there’s a homemade 3-D printer in the garage where he created the first 1:18 scale models. To pay for the $20,000 cost of the first full-scale prototype, Spera spent months driving for Uber and Lyft.
While Next is currently testing its vehicles, Spera sees the software that routes pods and passengers as the startup’s main focus.
Editor’ s note: Here are five Bay Area startups worth watching this week:
What it does: Helps homeowners looking to rent out their spaces decide how to price the listing based on current market demand. CEO and co-founder Ian McHenry said Beyond Pricing has 120,000 listings in 1,000 markets around the world, and works directly with Airbnb and VRBO.
What happened: The company recently acquired Smart Host, a smaller competitor, for an undisclosed amount.
Why it matters: It’s easy to rent out your home — but not to maximize the rent you can get. Beyond Pricing helps rental hosts and property owners respond to sudden surges in demand. For example, McHenry said, the solar eclipse is driving a sudden spike in demand at the end of August, a trend Beyond Pricing is able to catch.
Headquarters: San Francisco.
Funding: $3.5 million, according to McHenry.
What it does: Creates competitive programming challenges where developers can prove their skills to potential employers. Corporate partners include Goldman Sachs, Bloomberg and Morgan Stanley.
What happened: The company published data last week that rated developers around the country, based on how they scored on HackerRank’s challenges.
Why it matters: Companies often initially screen candidates based on their resumes. CEO and co-founder Vivek Ravisankar said HackerRank gives companies another angle to look at applicants they may have initially pushed aside.
Headquarters: Palo Alto.
Funding: $28 million, according to Ravisankar.
What it does: A virtual reality software company that TechCrunch called one of the first “VR social experiences to gain traction.”
What happened: The company shut down Thursday due to “unforeseen financial difficulty” — a typical tale of Silicon Valley. This comes a month after a Texas company sued the virtual reality company, accusing it of patent infringement.
Why it matters: The company attributes its demise to a promise of funding from an investor that fell through and the sluggish virtual reality market. “We’ve been out fundraising but have run out of time and money,” the company said in a blog post.
Headquarters: Redwood City.
Funding: $15.7 million, according to Crunchbase.
What is does: Combines carrier data, location data and user behavior to create custom audiences for marketers.
What happened: The company partnered with Sprint to release a new product that verifies consumer location data to make mobile ad campaigns more effective.
Why it matters: Billions of dollars are used on mobile advertising every year, but many of those ads may be hitting the wrong audience. “This new product offering is a really solving a big pain point in the market,” said CEO Alistair Goodman.
Headquarters: San Francisco.
Funding: $18 million.
How we pick the companies
Every week, The Chronicle and Crunchbase, a San Francisco firm that tracks key businesses in technology, analyze private Bay Area companies based on their financial backing, employees and activity on Crunchbase. We feature five that are moving up in the ranks. For more information on the companies: www.crunchbase.com
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