Kyle Vogt couldn’t do anything to help his dustpan-shaped battlebot Decimator as it took a saw blade to the belly. The CO2 tank powering its primary weapon ruptured, sending his droid skittering into the spikes lining the arena. Moments later, the bot’s nemesis, Tazbot, flipped it over and landed six blows with a pickaxe before judges called the fight.
Vogt, who was 13, didn’t know it, but that Battlebots match in Las Vegas would be instrumental in determining his career path and, possibly, the future of transportation. As his father slogged along the highway stretching across the prairie toward their home in Kansas City, Vogt thought, “This seems like something a robot could do.”
Today, Vogt is 30 and the CEO of Cruise Automation, the self-driving car outfit General Motors bought for about $600 million in March. The San Francisco startup is the lynchpin of GM’s bid to build a network of autonomous cars.
The Detroit giant got plenty of competition. Ford, Nissan, BMW, Volvo, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, and others are working on autonomy, too. They’ve all got the manufacturing capability and scale needed here, and most have set up research centers in Silicon Valley to build up their software skills.