Startup-ting X Mars Auto “Story of an Autonomous Driving Startup” Review

2020’s 2nd Startup-ting was hosted with an autonomous trucking startup called ‘Mars Auto’. Although the session was live streamed on Youtube due to COVID-19, many people joined and enjoyed our Startup-ting lecture!

Mars Auto, established 3 years ago, develops autonomous driving system for trucks. Today’s Startup-ting topic is about how the company was able to create the best autonomous driving technology in Korea with only 5 engineers and an initial funding of KRW 400 million. The story of Mars Auto CEO Ilsu Park begins now!

The lecture started with how Park decided to start his business and how he got interested in autonomous driving. Park initially had no interest in autonomous driving. However, when he thought about what he could do with what he learned in college and machine learning, he decided to create an autonomous driving simulator software. His initial goal when he first established his company in 2017 was to make an autonomous driving simulator well-made enough so that other autonomous driving companies could use the software. He decided that he needed to learn about autonomous driving in order to develop a simulator. It was difficult to test the simulator in real life, so he had to test the simulator in a virtual game. He learned that ‘autonomous driving = computer science + math” and successfully developed the technology. He wondered what value his technology could create, and came to the conclusion to automate freight transport. While communicating with freight transport companies, he gained confidence that he could apply the autonomous driving technology to automate warehouse to warehouse truck operations.

Once Park decided to start an autonomous driving company, he received a lot of questions regarding the unique competitiveness of his company from investors. It was not easy at first because Mars Auto lacked in research experience compared to other autonomous driving companies. However, Mars Auto collaborated with a lab at KAIST to create cars and develop the autonomous driving technology, and gradually built up its portfolio. After numerous testing at KAIST, the startup was able to receive funding from Kakao Ventures, and officially jumped into the autonomous trucking business.

In Korea, it necessary to be authorized by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport to perform autonomous driving. It was difficult to earn permission, but Mars Auto overcame the obstacle and earned a temporary driving permit to test the technology. The company was the first in Korea to successfully drive from Seoul to Pusan for 5 hours and 30 minutes without the interference of a driver. Fully autonomous driving requires keeping lanes and distance from the car in front, and Mars Auto had successfully developed the technology.

Mars Auto also received funding outside of Korea from Y-combinator, a famous startup accelerator. The company aims to collaborate with freight transport companies to completely automate warehouse to warehouse truck operations. Mars Auto is only three years old, but has successfully grown with a small seed money and a team of 5 members and the future of the company is anticipated 🙂

The growth of Mars Auto can be largely attributed to the engineers. In software engineering, 1 excellent engineer can do more than 10 good engineers. In addition, the company decided that cameras are more efficient than radars for trucks driving on highways. Mars Auto had to focus on using cameras because using existing radars required high labor. The company now uses cameras and other sensors to automate driving.

Mars Auto believes that data-based machine learning is the key to develop a full autonomous driving technology. The company is making way for efficient autonomous driving by developing a technology that automates data without the interference of the driver.

After the lecture, CEO Park answered questions that he received in advanced and through live streaming. There were questions regarding how he decided to start his own business, how Mars Auto is handling the difficulties of commercializing autonomous driving companies, how the team divided up the work, what open source the company has used, and etc.

Mars Auto is unique in that it focuses on autonomous trucks. The company is anticipated to grow not only in Korea, but also abroad. We believe Mars Auto will open the era of autonomous trucking 🙂 More Startup-tings are to follow. Stand by!