The Road Less Traveled: Why We Built Our AI Powered Autonomy Business Around a Retrofit Model

by | Feb 18, 2021 | Blog

The Road Less Traveled: Why We Built Our AI Powered Autonomy Business Around a Retrofit Model

by | Feb 18, 2021 | Blog

For any company starting out, there are a number of foundational questions that define a business and determine the path forward. What will we do? Who are our customers? Should we build or buy technology? To retrofit or not to retrofit?  This last question was of pivotal importance for SafeAI as we began our journey to bring AI powered autonomy to the construction and mining industries.

This last question, of course, applies primarily to our own industry, but has been as foundational to our business as any other. Since day one, we’ve built SafeAI around a retrofit model for autonomy, opting to upgrade existing industry equipment rather than custom-building equipment from scratch. 

Retrofitting wasn’t a foregone conclusion, then or now. In fact, the opposite approach has been popular in our industry. Many upstarts, from companies building self-driving cars to those building autonomous dump trucks, have opted to build their autonomous vehicles from the ground up, developing each element themselves. 

So why did we take the road less traveled? For us, the decision was easy. The custom-build approach is costly, inefficient and inherently unscalable. Ultimately, we believed it would seriously inhibit us in our goal to transform construction and mining via AI powered autonomy, and we’ve been proud of how this decision has played out over the years. Here are the seven key benefits of the retrofit approach.

Advantages of Retrofitting AI Powered Autonomy

I Optimization

The construction and mining industries have plenty of valuable equipment; the construction market alone is estimated at $113 billion. The answer to creating safer, smarter industries does not lie in churning out more equipment, or new equipment to replace the old; it lies in upgrading the existing infrastructure. Retrofitting existing dump trucks, F150s, skid steers and more with autonomous hardware and software allows all companies to optimize their previous investments while also advancing operations.

II Accessibility 

On a similar note, investing in autonomy is a big decision; investing in custom-built equipment that forces companies to abandon the hundreds of thousands of dollars they’ve spent on existing heavy equipment is an even bigger, and more difficult, decision. A retrofit approach significantly lowers this barrier to entry. 

By upgrading existing assets with autonomous technology, any company can enhance their operations and maintain a competitive edge without incurring tremendous risk or losses. This approach makes industry-wise AI powered autonomy far more accessible, and broadens SafeAI’s market and potential for impact.

III Focus

Artificial intelligence (AI) has been core to our mission at SafeAI since the beginning, and we’ve dedicated the bulk of our time and resources to developing the best possible algorithms for our autonomous software. Our retrofit approach has given us the ability to focus on doing just one thing really well—deploying and training autonomous hardware and software—instead of trying to boil the ocean by developing every aspect of the equipment ourselves. We let other industry leaders play to their strengths, and we focus on playing to ours. 

IV Efficiency

In addition to diluting focus, building an autonomous dump truck or digger from scratch could take months, or more likely years, to get right. But industries like construction and mining don’t have years to waste; autonomy is ready for off-road applications today. Every day a company doesn’t begin the process of deploying AI powered autonomy for smarter, safer sites is another day they could lose productivity, or even their competitive edge.   

Retrofitting allows us to be nimble and move quickly to meet industry demand as soon as it arises. We don’t need months or years of advance notice; our technology is ready now, and we can be onsite and up-and-running for a new customer quickly. 

V Collaboration

We’ve always been passionate about collaboration at SafeAI, working closely with both our industry partners and customers. We firmly believe no one company can independently deliver autonomy at scale. To this end, we’ve built an OEM- and systems-agnostic autonomous ecosystem that allows any company in the industry to integrate with our technology. This approach has broken the market open, freeing us to work with any construction or mining company ready to advance their operations, with no limitations or restrictions due to their equipment brand.   

VI Scale

One of our biggest gripes with the custom-build approach is that it’s antithetical to scalability. It’s not enough to just create effective technology; to matter, it needs to be broadly rolled out and driving real world impact, at scale. 

By nature, creating from scratch is a more slow-moving process, and wouldn’t allow us to move with the speed and agility we’d like to meet rising demand. The factors of a retrofit model—the ability to use existing equipment and ready-made technology, the freedom to work with any organization and the power to move quickly—combine to create unprecedented scalability, allowing construction and mining to become smarter and safer, faster. 

VII Impact 

Together, all of these elements—our ability to work quickly, to collaborate with anyone, to deliver autonomy at scale—add up to something much bigger: impact. 

We’re not interested in technology for technology’s sake. Driving meaningful transformation in the construction and mining industries is foundational to our mission. Our ultimate goal is to provide safer, more productive project sites industry-wide; our retrofit approach allows us to expand and accelerate our efforts to reach that goal sooner.