How Will Mobility Industry Take Shape? Lux Capital’s Farshchi Weighs In

Shahin Farshchi, a partner at Silicon Valley VC firm Lux Capital, describes himself on his LinkedIn profile as a gearhead, Trekkie, and recovering engineer.

He’s a Bay Area native who spent part of his career working at GM’s tech center just outside of Detroit in Warren, MI. He’s into cars, space (as in the final frontier), and visionary minds, which seem like excellent qualities for someone investing in autonomous vehicle technologies. We called him a few weeks ago, before the Uber fatality, to get his thoughts on how he saw the mobility industry taking shape.

Over his 11 years at Lux, Farshchi has led investments in a number of companies, including SiBeam, developer of next-generation wireless technologies; Zoox, a “soup-to-nuts” mobility company he says is reinventing the car from scratch; and an autonomous sensor company founded by former Apple engineers that is still in stealth.

“We make seed and Series A investments in big-thinking, visionary, status quo-disrupting founders,” Farshchi says when describing the firm’s strategy. “We make a lot of investments in [companies developing] semiconductors, satellites, rockets, computer vision, and autonomous vehicles.”

Before becoming a venture capitalist, Farshchi co-founded Vista Integrated Systems, a company that developed wireless vital-sign monitors based on a neural interface technology he created while working on his PhD at UCLA. He’s also worked as a software engineer at numerous ventures.

In 2001, after the dot-com crash, Farshchi felt a little disillusioned with the Silicon Valley scene, so he accepted a job working on hybrid electric cars for GM and moved to Michigan.

“It was an interesting time in my life, but I wouldn’t do it again,” he says. “I moved to Detroit, ironically, in search of greener pastures.” While in the Motor City, he realized that spending his days inside a gigantic corporate machine wasn’t what he pictured as his life’s work, so he moved back to California to continue his career in the tech industry.

Despite his short-lived experience in Michigan, Farshchi believes Detroit has a significant role to play in the development of autonomous vehicles. “Silicon Valley at times can be stuck in an echo chamber,” he says. “Detroit has a huge role in the future of autonomous transportation, and they’ve done a phenomenal job building a supply chain and making vehicles safe and efficient. Detroit can help [the mobility industry] grow and thrive.”

Given his background, Farshchi has a unique perspective from which to observe the nascent mobility industry. “I expect a progressive rollout rather than a night-and-day change,” he explains. “I expect to see autonomous vehicles first operated by fleets and big companies—maybe a partnership like GM, Waymo, and a rental car company—or a massive entity like Zoox operating in select geofenced urban areas.”

During the next two years, he predicts, by self-driving vehicles will only account for “a tiny fraction—.01 percent” of the total miles driven in the U.S. “Between 2020 and 2030, it’ll be a single-digit percentage of miles. Between 2040 and 2050, it’ll be a double-digit percentage. The industry has gone from nonexistent in 2013 to being a group of visionaries doubted and ridiculed, to an inevitability post-2015. You rarely see a trend go from nonexistent to conventional wisdom over such a short period of time.”

When we interviewed Farshchi, it was a week or so before an autonomous Uber car plowed into a pedestrian crossing the street in Tempe, AZ. The fatal accident is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, but it has already caused shockwaves reverberating across the mobility industry. Uber has suspended testing of driverless cars in four North American cities as a result.

Farshchi is excited by the potential for autonomy to revolutionize how we move physically and virtually, and how we experience places and each other. He says makers of autonomous vehicles should look to the tightly regulated aviation industry to find a path forward.

“This technology should be subjected to the highest degree of scrutiny,” he points out. “The onus is on lawmakers to set guidelines for compliance and rules specifying what steps should be taken in the event of an accident. We should ask questions around fooling these vehicles—it’s equivalent to firing a weapon at an airplane—and have very well understood rules. If we do that, we can operate with a level of vulnerability along the same lines as ships, trains, or aircraft.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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