Accelerating autonomy: EMBA alumnus and F1 veteran Mark Preston on StreetDrone ONE
StreetDrone ONE is an autonomous vehicle (AV) platform designed to open up self-driving technology to educational institutions, as well as programmers and developers outside the traditional car industry. CEO and founder Mark Preston is an entrepreneur, Oxford Executive MBA (EMBA) alumnus, and former Formula One technical director.
‘As I began to do more work in this area I realised that, despite the huge pressure on companies to embrace the new technology, there were not enough ways for people to learn how to work with it. Car manufacturers kept telling me they simply couldn’t find graduates who had experience with autonomous systems,’ explained Preston. ‘The problem boils down to this: building a car is extremely expensive, and institutions and programmers won’t have the skills or the finances to do it. So they need a readymade platform on which to try out their ideas.’
After identifying the gap in the market, Preston and managing director Mike Potts approached Renault to license their Twizy hatchback, which they have modified to include 360 degree cameras, laser sensors, customisable panels and a fully customisable operating system.
The battery powered, lightweight car might be no match in performance to Preston’s race cars, but the process of designing and marketing it has many similarities. ‘The best way to explain motorsports is that it is a prototyping competition,’ said Preston. ‘It’s a low volume, high value and highly innovative industry, and so there are obvious parallels to the world of starts-ups.’
Having enrolled at Oxford Saïd in 2005 to improve his knowledge of fundraising and general business practices, Preston says his Executive MBA has been essential to his fast-paced career: ‘I launched the Formula One team, Super Aguri, at the same time as studying the EMBA. The advice of both the faculty and my cohort was invaluable, and I still seek the counsel of my fellow alumni to this day.’
As to how anyone could build an international motorsport team while completing one of the world’s most rigorous business qualifications, Preston tells us the secret is impeccable time management: ‘let’s just say long haul flights provide a great opportunity to catch up on your coursework,’ he said.
StreetDrone ONE will begin delivery of its self-drive ready platform in August 2017.
This article first appeared on the news pages of the Saïd Business School website on 28th June 2017.