Udacity spin-out Voyage aims to build a full self-driving taxi business

Udacity’s self-driving car program has been focused on training engineers and helping progress the field with open source contributions, but now Udacity Vice President Oliver Cameron is striking out with a new company called Voyage, which was born out of Udacity’s autonomous efforts. Voyage wants to put self-driving cars on the road as part of a fleet of taxis, created using retrofits to existing vehicles that add autonomous capabilities without requiring ground-up vehicle creation.

The task Voyage sets for itself is nonetheless incredibly ambitious: The company wants to operate its own self-driving service entirely, including creating the ride hailing platform through which┬áit’ll operate, and providing a unique product that relies heavily on voice input from the driver to get the ride going, control music and make stops, reports Business Insider. Voyage sees its customers as “drivers” in the sense that they’re in control of the in-vehicle experience, even if the vehicle is driving itself.

Voyage wants to get its cars working in a commercial capacity sooner, rather than later. The startup is looking at fielding vehicles “very soon,” according to the Insider report, and has already secured permission to start operating test vehicles with passenger trials sometime in the next few months, though it’s not discussing specific spots just yet.

Voyage will enter a busy space with tough competitors, including Uber and Ford, who have a lot of road experience already under their belts. The company also isn’t taking any of the tech developed by Udacity students via its self-driving program with it, according to Udacity, and Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun said that he’s keeping his distance from any of Voyage’s activities because of conflicts related to his prior role at Google’s self-driving car program.

Udacity provided the following statement regarding Voyage’s debut via a spokesperson:

Our Self-Driving Car Nanodegree program has seen strong demand with over 6,600 students enrolled worldwide and 24 hiring partners including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Nvidia and Delphi among others. We are thrilled to have built a program of this calibre and have the ability to spin off a company in the self-driving space — there is no better testimony for the program. We look forward to watching Voyage grow in this exciting space.