How May Mobility’s autonomous shuttle ambitions backfired

By all appearances, May Mobility was a scrappy success story. The autonomous transportation startup made its debut at Y Combinator’s demo day in 2017, with a team that had been working on driverless tech since the third U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Grand Challenge in 2017. Within the span of a few years, May had a roster of paying customers in Michigan, Ohio, and Rhode Island as it raised tens of millions in venture capital from investors including Toyota and BMW.

But on the inside looking out, it was a different story. May engineers struggled to maintain and upgrade the company’s vehicle platform, at one point spending months attempting to install an air conditioning system in the depths of summer. The leadership’s ambition often outstretched May’s ability to deliver, which upset vendors, some of whom went unpaid for stretches. And not a single one of the company’s commercial routes approached full autonomy.