SCOTTS VALLEY—About a month after emerging from stealth mode with $50 million in funding, Scotts Valley startup Pearl Automotive Inc. is gearing up to release its first product—RearView, a solar-powered, wireless, rearview camera that people install on their back license plate and operate from a smart phone.
It is the company’s first foray into high tech, safety-related products for cars that are already on the road and executives, many from Apple, pledge they will be bringing the latest technology of the semi-autonomous vehicle to older cars in the years ahead.
Most of the more than 1.2 billion cars on the road in the U.S. are not new, says, Bryson Gardner, 46, co-founder and chief executive officer. “We see this is a real opportunity to accelerate the adoption and (of automotive technology) and create the platform to benefit the consumer.”
Bryson, a former Apple iPod and iPhone engineer, started the company with two other former Apple engineers—Brian Sander, who serves as chief operating officer at Pearl; and Joseph Fisher, vice president of engineering. They all left Apple in 2013 and quietly started the company in 2014.
Around that time, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration mandated that all new vehicles under 10,000 pounds have rear visibility technology by May 2018.
On average, there are 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries per year caused by backover crashes, according to the NHTSA. Children under five years old account for 31 percent of backover fatalities each year and seniors over 69 years of age account for 26 percent.
Unlike many of the less expensive rearview aftermarket cameras on the market, RearView is wireless and said to be easily installed in minutes. It includes two cameras that provide a 180-degree view and are attached to an aluminum alloy frame. It looks like a regular license plate holder, but has solar strips and is screwed on with a special tool to prevent theft. A dashboard mount for an iOS and Android phone displays the image via an adapter that hooks in under the dash and transmits wirelessly. Users receive software updates through the app.
With all the interesting technology going into new cars, Pearl co-founders saw a viable market. Initially self-funded, Pearl they met at Satellite Center in Scotts Valley and Los Gatos and at Stanford alumni offices. They settled eventually in Scotts Valley where rent was cheap compared to Silicon Valley and they are still close to a pool of talented engineers.
Within a year, the company had grown to 15 and secured its first round of funding. This year they have more than 70 employees, plus a small cadre of consultants spreading out into nearly 20,000-square-feet of the 449,000-square-foot Enterprise Technology Centre.
“They’ve been an incredible success story,” said Steve Sheldon of Sheldon and Wiseman Commercial Real Estate. “They originally started off in 1,277-square-feet and have just moved into a little over 18,000-square-feet.”
Once the headquarters of Borland International, the tech campus is about 70 percent leased. Another 15 percent is in “serious negotiation” with eight companies, said Drew Avery, of Sheldon Wiseman.
More than half of Pearl employees has experience at Apple and nearly 40 percent of them live in Santa Cruz County, according to the company. They also have several interns from UC Santa Cruz.
Pearl claims its technology will carry older cars into the future.
Forbes, one of the many publications to review the RearView, noted that there have already been several success stories in similar after market vehicle kits, such as Cruise Automation, which was acquired this year for $1 billion.
“We all drive around in time capsules of old technology,” says Tyler Mincey, head of product for Pearl and one of the first to come on board in 2014. Mincey remembers the first announcement of funding in 2015. There was celebratory beer from Beer THIRTY in Santa Cruz. Then reality hit.
“We opened a couple of beers and then said, ‘Oh man, we’ve got to get to work!’”
Pearl Automation Inc.
WHAT: A new startup that is focusing on providing after-market technology products to cars that are on the road.
FIRST PRODUCT: RearVision is a wireless rearview camera that installs in minutes, pairs to a smartphone and updates with new features over time. The company is accepting online preorders. Cost: $499.
HEADQUARTERS: Enterprise Technology Centre, 100 Enterprise Way, Scotts Valley, and an office in Los Altos
LEADERSHIP: Bryson Gardner, cofounder and chief executive officer; Brian Sander, 53, chief operating officer; and Joseph Fisher, 38, vice president of engineering
HEADCOUNT: More than 70 employees
HISTORY: Founded in 2014 and launched in June 2016 with the announcement of $50 million in two rounds of funding.
INVESTORS: Accel Partners of Palo Alto, Shasta Ventures of Menlo Park and Venrock of Palo Alto
This article appeared in the Santa Cruz Sentinel.