Meet Tom Taylor of Wheego Technologies

From VoyageATL, September 26, 2017

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tom Taylor.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA and graduated from Carnegie Mellon with a degree in Physics. So, I guess that technology has always been in my blood. After working a few years in an IBM Product Development Group, I came to Atlanta to teach high school at Westminster. Before I got too stuck in the industry environment, I wanted to try teaching – helping students see how the world works; both from a physical world perspective and from a life perspective.

After teaching for 4 years, I got a job doing research at Georgia Tech Research Institute and then from there back into industry. I have been blessed to work in a lot of different areas of business; from advanced antenna and radar systems to satellite TV to advanced wireless networks and finally into the connected car and autonomous car worlds.

It is really cool to work in areas of life that are changing significantly, while you are involved in them. Artificial Intelligence, AI, and the whole self-driving car phenomena are going to significantly change much of how we live over the next 20 years.

As we say, “enjoy what you do and feel that you make a difference, what could be more fun?”

Has it been a smooth road?
The road not yet travelled is never smooth. I have been fortunate to be able to work in big companies and small startups. Big companies have lots of resources, but getting them to move quickly can be a real challenge. Small companies can move and pivot quickly, often to survive, and sometimes just to respond to changes in the marketplace.

However, resources can be somewhat limited, especially in the pre-revenue or pre-profit stage.

The biggest help to impediments on the road not yet travelled is always people. A great, focused team makes the work easy and fun. Dealing with others who have their own agenda can be a pain. Your job is to get them fully on the team and help them see that their ultimate objective is best met by meeting the team’s objective.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Wheego Technologies started out about 9 years ago as Wheego Electric Cars. We successfully launched a low-speed all-electric car, followed by a highway speed car.

About 2 years ago we pivoted to focus on autonomous technologies, and I came on board to build a team of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning professionals. We are driving Wheego cars around Atlanta gathering data to train our self-driving programs. We also have a test track in the parking lot of the old Turner Field, where we can try out our self-driving algorithms as we develop them.

At Wheego Technologies we are focused on saving lives by making driving safer. No one loves driving in heavy stop-and-go traffic. If my car could drive itself in heavy traffic, late at light on that lonely road or on a boring highway stretch; I would let it! We think our technology will help save some of the 1 million people that are killed in highway accidents around the world each year. Our aging population will also benefit from self-driving cars. I look forward to being mobile and independent long after my physical ability to drive a car is gone.

While we are building technology for the USA, our main focus is China. China is the largest car market in the world, they have a serious electric vehicle subsidy initiative and they have five times the fatality rate per capita as the USA. China also has more than 30 reasonably sized carmakers, so it is a fertile field for life-saving self-driving car technology. We are currently capturing driving data in both the USA and China so that we can teach our AI machines how to drive in very different scenarios. For example, when was the last time that you saw a three-wheeled rickshaw piled high with boxes traveling down a roadway here in the USA? We have lots of very interesting driving scenarios captured in our data warehouse for AI algorithms.

I’m fortunate at Wheego to have a boss who has successfully launched an Atlanta startup before.

Mike McQuary was the President of MindSpring and grew it to a $5 billion company. His management style is to hire the right people for the job, making sure we are a fit for both the company culture and the challenge at hand, to express clear long-term goals, and then to give us the tools, authority and responsibility to achieve those goals as we see fit. I have also personally learned a great deal from peers and team members throughout my career. From some of my software developers and QA friends I learned to develop the culture of celebrating finding errors and bugs. A bug found early is a hundred times more important than a bug found late. Bugs found late are a waste. This applies to both software development and business plans.

I think you have to have a certain spirit of adventure to enjoy working in a technology startup. It is always a race – against time, against resources, against competitors. But I saw in my work in the cellular industry that our technology ultimately changed lives – we came up with better, more efficient ways for people to communicate. I’m excited to be back “in the hunt” with autonomous driving, finding better, more efficient ways for people to travel.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Atlanta has been very welcoming to Wheego. We have been able to hire excellent engineers and interns from Georgia Tech, Georgia State and Kennesaw State University, and have enjoyed enthusiastic support from their faculty. Georgia State is allowing us to use part of the old Turner Field parking lot as our autonomous test track.

Starting early in our history as an electric car company, the City of Atlanta reached out to include us in their related events and initiatives. Now that we have pivoted to be an autonomous vehicle technology company, the city has again reached out to understand our business and our approach, and to include us in the “Smart Corridor” that is being planned along North Avenue. They have also introduced us to the Atlanta Committee for Progress.

Contact Info: