TechCrunch is thrilled to announce that Swyft Cities has won the TechCrunch Sessions: Mobility 2022 pitch-off and is being accelerated into the Battlefield 200 at TechCrunch Disrupt in October. Beyond Aero is a finalist.
The Mountain View-based company is committed to improving transportation through the use of autonomous, lightweight, fixed-cable vehicles. The company says its solution offers a lower cost per kilometer with less carbon emissions than conventional transport alternatives.
Swyft sees it as a new form of urban mobility that can solve transport problems in densely developed areas, including corporate campuses, airports, universities and tourist districts.
The platform is original in that the vehicles move on a fixed cable, allowing new connections which can be added if needed. This adds capacity to an area, allowing for higher density and more profitable developments. It also reduces parking and traffic mitigation costs. In some regions, providing connections within the site can generate high value.
Beyond Aero, based in Paris/Toulouse, France, builds long-haul aircraft powered by hydrogen electric propulsion. The first plane is a zero-emission private plane (6-9 seats), designed for hydrogen propulsion, flying at 1,000 miles of range.
Why Swyft was the top choice
The pitch-off judges – Yoon Choi (Muirwoods Ventures), Mar Hershenson (Pear VC) and Gabriel Scheer (Elemental Excelerator) on day one; and Sven Strohband (Khosla Ventures), Victoria Beasley (Prelude Ventures) and John Du (GM Ventures) on day two – largely believed that Swyft Cities had good leadership and a very capable team. The judges said Swyft is addressing a growing problem with a new solution and a competent go-to-market strategy.
Swyft Cities was founded in 2019 by some of the Google alumni who were behind Google’s campus transportation and real estate programs. They were tasked with investigating new forms of mobility that could help achieve what the startup now calls “neighborhood-scale transportation” in a way that both reduces car use and creates a better environment on campus. The team, which included Swyft founder and CEO Jeral Poskey, looked at ideas such as underground tunnels and self-driving shuttles, but found that most infrastructure solutions in existence today are designed for commuting. over long distances, not over short distances in dense environments.
“As you’re looking to densify things, you have a lot of congestion and difficulty getting around, and that applies to many universities, airports and other places within a one to five mile radius,” Poskey said. to TechCrunch, noting that it is these closed campus environments that Swyft is targeting first. “Given the growth we’re looking at and all the market opportunities around the world, we took a chance, started an R&D project to see what we could come up with, and what we found was Swyft.”
Since its inception, Swyft has established an R&D center in Christchurch, New Zealand, developed a minimum viable product and secured its first customer agreement. The startup is now working with Remarkables Park in Queenstown, a large office, retail and residential space, to develop a network of self-driving gondolas. Swyft aims to have the first vehicles operational around August 2024, according to Poskey.
“[The team at Remarkables Park] have a first little leg that connects a few buildings and a parking lot, and the point is to test it and prove it,” Poskey said. “They then have later phases that will see this get bigger and bigger, eventually expand beyond their property until it becomes a transit system that can add to or supplement what is currently a difficult public transport environment there, and really feed people from these scattered areas on the outskirts of the city in the bus system that can bring people to the central part of the city.
This model is how Swyft sees itself evolving in other environments and cities as well. Starting small makes it easy to grow, says Poskey, who explained that the Swyft system doesn’t have an endpoint like a train or even a traditional gondola system, but instead operates on a network that can grow to from any node, thus adding additional value. So while these connections may start in smaller environments, as they grow outwards they will be able to more easily connect to other forms of public transport.
From a pricing perspective, these gondolas cost much less than other transit alternatives, such as expanding roads and building more parking lots, according to Poskey.
“We hit the price point and the value proposition of saying it’s cheaper than building a parking lot and you get a better on-campus experience,” Poskey said. “You get a better property that’s more valuable and you spent less money to get there.”
Swyft’s target cost is $10 million per mile or less for infrastructure, which Poskey says allows the private sector to build it themselves rather than wait for government funding.
“That was the real trigger to say this is more important than something Google should develop on its own campuses,” Poskey said. “It’s something that has huge potential, is highly sustainable, and just needs to be developed to pursue the wider market on its own.”
This story has been updated with more background information about Swyft Cities.