When an industry leader of autonomous transportation lives in your backyard, it behooves you to pay a visit and say “Hello…I noticed your car drives itself.”
So for our Spring Startup Mixer, we invited the crew from AutonomouStuff to hang out and explain what they are doing inside their unassuming headquarters on the outskirts of Morton, IL.
They kindly obliged. As if that was not enough, they offered to host a tour and autonomous test drive to the lucky winners of a mixer raffle. We thought it would be a good idea to join the winners for their visit. We wanted to learn more about the company — and, yes, try to sneak a ride or two in a self-driving car.
A peek inside the autonomous industry
To fully understand the breadth of the work currently underway at AutonomouStuff, one might require some knowledge of mechanical engineering and automation software. But aside from the complicated technology, it is not difficult to understand that this Greater Peoria startup stands as a leader in the autonomous transportation industry.
With over 2,000 customers around the world, AutonomouStuff enables their rapidly evolving industry to bring research and development to life. For the big players working in this space — from universities to automotive companies — this Morton startup holds the keys to unlocking the future of autonomous driving.
Numerous products and services pour out of AutonomouStuff. But their current focus — rather, the most visible and easy to comprehend — is the creation of physical platforms (vehicles). Their customers use these platforms to test their various autonomous products.
“They can build upon it so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” said Holly Tatum, director of marketing at AutonomouStuff. She said in this industry, everyone values the expertise and capabilities of their peers.
“We are all kind of dependent on each other. Things are changing daily and we are all working together,” said Tatum.
She guided us through their growing office, pointing out where walls once existed before the latest expansion — a physical symbol of the rapid growth of their industry on the whole.
“Every day is something new,” said application engineer Tim Swanson as we poked our heads inside a semi truck cab currently in development.
“It’s exciting. We’re kind of on the edge. Like the change from going to cars after carriages, it’s the next big thing,” said Swanson.
Rooted in Greater Peoria
Greater Peoria native Bobby Hambrick, founder and CEO of AutonomouStuff, started this company in his backyard in 2010. He began by distributing components to companies creating autonomous vehicle systems. Seven years later, the company’s 45 employees occupy a 16,000 square-foot headquarters in Morton, along with satellite facilities in San Jose, Detroit, and China. They have a growing presence in Germany and Japan, and a need to fill dozens more positions.
Despite the global reach, Hambrick has kept the central operations of the company here in Greater Peoria.
“I’m proud of my roots,” said Hambrick. “I’ve had many opportunities to move out of here, but I like the Midwest culture. People here have a reason to be here and they are loyal and hard working.”
Preparing for future industries
Greater Peoria boasts a rich history of R&D leadership in manufacturing, healthcare and agriculture. But to stay ahead of the curve, Hambrick suggests more regional investment and collaboration to compete in emerging industries.
“It doesn’t work if there isn’t enough money or engineers,” he said. “It takes a whole community for it to work. You can do it here.”
Between the remote control Polaris shuttle and the self-driving Lincoln MKZ (with speeds offered in Comfortable, Aggressive, and Insane — we opted for Aggressive) and the introduction to current developments, there was a lot to be excited about in that quiet corner of Morton.
Sometimes we might doubt our ability in the Midwest to serve as leaders and innovators in a rapidly changing world economy. But seeing it first-hand during visits with our regional startups proves otherwise.
“It makes it real,” said Laura Stiverson, one of the winners of the tour and an entrepreneur herself.
“It’s so cool it’s right here in Morton,” she said. “It goes to show anything is possible.”
We at Startup GP concur.
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