- Associated Press - Saturday, May 27, 2017

MORTON, Ill. (AP) - Where driverless cars are concerned, the future is almost here. And a major player in making the groundbreaking change in our culture a reality is based in Morton.

AutonomouStuff was founded by Bobby Hambrick seven years ago when the central Illinois native launched the business from a spare bedroom in his home. Today it’s grown to an international company employing 40 people (“We’ll double that number soon,” he said) in Silicon Valley, Detroit and China.

“I am proud to say that we have provided more products and solutions to more customers for automated driving than any other company in the world,” Hambrick said. “We work with nearly every company out there involved in automotive automation.”

Hambrick’s company began with the goal of closing the gaps in the industry’s supply chain by locating equipment suppliers and buying sensors in large quantities. He would then sell them to customers in smaller quantities and at less expensive prices because AutonomouStuff bought in bulk.

“I built and managed the website, did my own shipping and receiving, sales, tech support and so on,” Hambrick said. “Then I upgraded to a nicely finished barn in the backyard for about a year with four or five employees.”

The company grew from there to its current location on Erie Avenue off Interstate 155 complete with a research park used for developing new software applications for driverless vehicles.

“In 2016, we launched our automated research and development vehicle platforms that are shipping all over the world and have been a huge success,” Hambrick said. “We have built nearly 100 of them in the last 12 months.”

AutonomouStuff began by using a Lincoln MKZ as its working prototype car, outfitted with the robotic and sensor equipment necessary to pilot on its own through electronic commands. The company has recently expanded to the use of lower-cost vehicles such as Ford Fusion, Polaris GEM electric car and Polaris Ranger off-road vehicle.

Before testing of the car systems is conducted, much time is spent scouting self-driving technologies from around the world and bringing them to Morton. Testing is done on site, first conducting simulations and then in private, controlled environments.

“I consider our team experts in all the technologies needed for self-driving as well as bringing together the world’s best technologies,” he said. “It’s actually an amazing experience to sit back and let the car take over the controls!”

A 1998 graduate of East Peoria High School, Hambrick described himself as always owning an “internal entrepreneurial spirit,” and began his first business - a lawn-mowing and landscaping venture - in his early teens.

Hambrick’s passion for robotics and automation helped start his career as an industrial electrician. He then managed an automation group for an electrical supply company before venturing out on his own.

AutonomouStuff’s business is focused on self-driving technology.

While driverless vehicles are close to reaching the market, it may be a few years before they are cruising down the highway while their owners ride along occupied with other tasks or conversing with passengers.

While the autonomous cars will remove the human error that causes most accidents, other factors may slow its arrival onto the public roadways.

Currently, cost (between $100,000 and $500,000 for an equipped Lincoln MKZ) is one of them, although that’s bound to come down to more reasonable levels.

Heavy rain and snow have caused problems with sensors in testing. Other technology issues - like malfunctions in GPS systems or traffic lights - have been identified as trouble areas, as well.

According to various industry sources, the market closest to realization in driving society appears to be public transportation vehicles like taxis and Uber car service. When that day comes, of course, there will be the usual cries about driving jobs being supplanted by computers.

“We are here to enable the future of transportation,” Hambrick said. “Our time is split between a lot of different areas including tech scouting, business development, marketing, operations, advanced development and support. We bring customers from all over the world to our office in Morton.

“The customers who visit us are from the automotive OEMs (original equipment manufacturers), automotive suppliers, universities, Silicon Valley startups, big data corporations, trucking companies and so on. These people are considered the world’s most advanced roboticists and probably never hear of Morton otherwise.”

Hambrick said the company had a couple of customers when he began. That expanded to about 500 two years ago and exceeds 2,000 today.

“Every day, there seems to be a brand-new company interested in advanced automation applications,” he said. “It’s our mission to bring together the world’s best technologies to help reduce the time it takes our customers to build safe advanced automation applications. We provide all the technology required to do so. This isn’t just hardware products, but it also includes engineering services and custom software.

“Keep an eye out for us, we are developing and providing some truly amazing solutions. It’s obvious to us that automated vehicles are coming quickly.”

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Source: (Peoria) Journal Star, https://bit.ly/2oLPnWI

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Information from: Journal Star, https://pjstar.com


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