Dutch Self-driving Car With a Twist

The innovation of self-driving cars has taken off in a big way. Big players like Uber, Google and Tesla are heavily investing in this new-age transportation. So why would a small start-up from the Netherlands called Amber, go into battle with these big hitters?

Amber One

Amber Mobility

The Dutch start-up company Amber Mobility is part of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) automotive division. The division is well-known for innovative projects like the Stella solar car and the development of energy storage using formic acid.

Selling access to cars

Although the company is currently building a self-driving car, it is not what they will be selling. Rather than selling a car, Amber sells access to cars. And, it’s not just another car-sharing service. According to the Dutch company, the difference is that Amber guarantees you a car that’s within walking-distance and that all of their cars are electric.

Steven Nelemans (CEO of Amber) explains: ‘In a normal car-sharing service, you see a map with the nearest available car. But it may be a mile away, it may be dirty, it may not work. You never know for sure. We can guarantee the car is always close by, clean, and in working order.’

Direct car to customer

Amber has developed software that calculates where a car is needed within 15 minutes using predictive algorithms. Instead of directing the customer to the car, the car will drive to the customer. Not in a high-tech way though, but by having students drive the vehicle to the client.

In the event that a car is unavailable, Amber will call you a cab. However, as the software improves, cabs will no longer be needed in the future, according to Nelemans.

As mentioned, students will be driving the car to the customer. But at some point, the students will not be required anymore. This is where Amber’s self-driving cars come in. The company aims to have the cars drive themselves to the customer, probably by mid-2018.

Teaching how to drive

Obviously self-driving cars need to be ‘taught’ how to drive. Where the bigger companies test their cars in traffic during the day, Amber teaches their cars how to drive during the night. Apparently, by driving at night, the cars can more easily gather data to improve their skills. Once the vehicles have gathered enough data, they can self-drive during the day. First by navigating the backstreets and eventually the busy main roads. ‘Our cars are driving during the day with normal drivers to accumulate data. And at night they accumulate even more data in the self-driving mode. We can learn much faster’, Nelemans explains.

Amber is developing its own self-driving software, in cooperation with 5 software companies and research institutes. Among them Microsoft and Nvidia.

Building their own electric car

Although Amber currently has its own fleet of BMW i3, the company is also building its own electric car. The Amber One is expected to hit the road in 2021 and will last a million miles. One million miles might seem farfetched, but the car is kitted out with modular parts which can be easily replaced. Nelemans says: ‘A normal car is built to break down after 200,000 miles, because car companies make money in repairs and they have to sell new cars. In our business model the cars belong to us. That’s an incentive to make them as long lasting as possible with minimum service costs.’

Government partnerships

Whereas companies like Uber and AirBnB clash with local governments, Amber has been successful creating partnerships with the authorities, resulting in public streets being made available to test its self-driving cars and the governments offering local networks for finding investors. Amber is looking to raise $70 million for their project.

The Netherlands is leading in self-driving legislation. The Dutch vehicle registration authority (RDW) was the first in Europe to approve Tesla’s self-driving features. If Amber One’s tests are sufficient enough, there is a good chance they will be approved as well.