Oxa: changing the way the Earth moves
Sharing a singular vision, Ben Upcroft, Vice President of Technology at Oxa, and his team are building software that enables any vehicle to self-drive, anywhere, anytime.
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Driving its way to autonomy
“Oxa originally came out of the need, we think, for a software platform that enables other industries to take advantage of autonomy. We call it ‘Universal Autonomy.’”
At its core, what Oxa is developing, according to Upcroft, has “the ability to make any vehicle in any domain, in any environment, be capable of autonomously moving any type of goods around.”
Unlike most other autonomy providers Oxa’s core belief is working with a “horizontal” mindset, rather than a “vertical niche,” explains Upcroft. Doing so means that Oxa is able to bring the benefits of autonomy, such as safety, productivity, and efficiency gains, to many markets, “from offroad mining quarries, to urban food delivery, to airports,” he says.
“Right from the early days, when we were just a few engineers, we had that vision of ‘Universal Autonomy,’ and we’ve continued that vision for the entire journey of Oxa – and now we’re deploying systems into different sectors across the world.”
A self-driven product
Upcroft broke down the Oxa vision into three questions, these being: “Where am I? What do I do next? And, how do I plan to intelligently get to the next destination?
“Once you can answer these three fundamentals, you can do autonomy almost anywhere.”
To achieve this, Oxa uses, as Upcroft describes, “a composable architecture of algorithms,” which enable them to deliver not only an effective product, but also a safe, efficient, and reliable one that utilises a symphony of multiple algorithms.
This system allows Oxa to constantly update and improve its systems, being “able to incorporate the latest machine learning and AI algorithms, as well as modern optimisations and numerical techniques,” details Upcroft.
Upcroft also detailed the three major product lines at Oxa: Oxa Driver, Oxa Hub, and Oxa MetaDriver.
Oxa Driver is at the wheel of what Oxa does, and is its flagship software product which enables self-driving of any vehicle, in any environment.
Oxa Hub on the other hand is enabling fleet management of autonomy. This system allows customers to “monitor, gather data, perform event analysis on their vehicles,” explains Upcroft, all from an integrable Cloud-type infrastructure.
Oxa MetaDriver is the final product in the range, which, as Upcroft describes: “allows you to validate and verify an autonomy system in a particular domain very rapidly, at scale.” Instead of traditional ‘bruteforce’ methods such as driving around for millions of miles and hoping scenarios crop up, MetaDriver uses AI/ML software to rigorously recreate scenarios and train algorithms to deal with them effectively, “almost 30x faster.”
The team behind the vision
Oxa started back in 2014 with just a few engineers and some big ideas, but since then it has managed to catch the eye of big names and attract a large workforce of great minds to make its vision a reality. Now deploying its products in Europe, North America, and Asia, Oxa has offices based in the UK, US, and Canada, headquartered in Oxford. Now a team of over 300 personnel, Oxa is continually looking to grow its team, reach, and products.
The bumps in the road
Upcroft noted two major challenges that had to be overcome during the journey of Oxa. “This first thing that jumps to mind of course, is COVID – and being a startup during the middle of a global pandemic,” he says. The pandemic triggered a widespread realisation of the importance of risk management in almost all areas of businesses. Projects and deployments had to be halted and managed appropriately, investments were reeled back, and overall work slowed – something that Oxa had to work through to maintain its vision.
Additionally, there also came concerns over the economic climate, especially in its primary market in Europe. As previously mentioned, COVID triggered a risk management flip, especially when it came to finances. This created uncertainty in not just product delivery, but also investments, and expansion, something Upcroft notes as being “particularly difficult to address as a startup moving into a scaleup.” However, Oxa was able to give reassurances and make sure both its clients and employees felt safe and secure on both of these concerns.
However, for Upcroft and the team at Oxa, nothing beats seeing the vision they set out nine years ago being brought to life, and for them, it is the consummation of their work so far. “Whenever we deploy a system to a customer, or a fleet to a customer, and get to see it in their hands operating and achieving what we set out to do nine years ago, it’s always a spike in joy and adrenaline,” enjoys Upcroft.
Beyond the joys of a successful product, Upcroft also notes that Oxa being one of – if not the first – company in Europe to achieve autonomy on a ‘natively driverless vehicle,’ is a key highlight of many at the company. “This means no human actuators, no pedals, no steering wheel, not even a seat or a cabin,” explains Upcroft. For Oxa it’s not just the technical achievement of this which they are proud of, but also the oftenunspoken regulatory victory they have achieved to be able to successfully deliver a product of this nature. “It’s not just a technical problem, it’s all the regulatory bodies, the policymakers, the legal and certification authorities – to be able to achieve all this was a real breakthrough moment for us,” elates Upcroft.
“For over 100 years we’ve had the constraints of facilitating a driver in the vehicle, and now we’re changing that constraint.”
Oxa is at an exciting point where expansion is on the horizon, and this is the primary goal of Oxa moving forward. Upcroft concludes: “The vision is that one day we will have vehicles all around the world, not just on the road, but off-road, as well as everything in between.
“There’s so many areas in which we believe autonomy can help and aid industries in bringing advantages in safety, productivity, and efficiency.”
It may be ambitious, but Oxa firmly believes in its goal of revolutionising the ways in which we move goods and people around the globe. “We want to have ‘driven by Oxa’ on the side of all of those vehicles,” proclaims Upcroft.
“We hope to create a platform that unleashes the imagination of other industries.”