By HOJUN CHOI
Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News
“Growing up in Detroit, I’ve always had a connection to the automobile industry,” Drako said. “But what I’m really excited about is how electric cars are going to completely reinvent the industry.”
Drako Motors debuted its first product, the Drako DriveOS, in August, which was tested on a street-legal demonstration vehicle designed and built at the Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences in Finland. Equipped with the Austin-based startup’s operating system, the test car set a new lap record at the famous Nürburgring racetrack in Germany.
Markus Palttala, the Finnish racing driver who drove the test vehicle, said the operating system is an incredible technology that improves both the performance as well as the safety of the vehicle.
“The operating system improves handling, which is very important for safety,” Palttala said. “More importantly, it reacts very quickly, which is crucial when something suddenly happens on the road.”
The secret to the improved handling of the vehicle, Drako said, is software that replaces the function of a mechanical system called a “differential,” which is responsible for maintaining the balance of a car as it makes turns.
The system, which is traditionally located at the center of each axle, allows the wheels at the inside of a turn to spin at a different speed than that of the outer wheels, allowing the vehicle to maintain stability and traction while making the turn.
The design of electric vehicles allows for its wheels to be controlled individually through four separate motors, also known as “four-wheel torque vectoring.” Using a system of automated sensors, Drako’s operating system manages the calculations and measurements necessary to perform the function of “differentials” more effectively.
“The operating system is compatible with electric cars that have one or two motors, but I believe that the four motor design will become dominant for high-end street cars in the future,” Drako said.
By redesigning the operating systems of electric-powered vehicles, Drako said the company also seeks to reduce the number of computers that are needed in these vehicles.
“Instead of using millions of lines of code to control hundreds of different micro-controllers in the vehicle, we’re creating software that allows for these functions through two or three computers,” Drako said.
With this new concept, however, comes along the difficulty of finding vehicles to properly test and improve the existing operating system to maximum potential. Drako said that the company, which is still mostly in its research and developmental stage, is currently in the process of designing and developing its own test cars.
“The problem is that you can’t buy a four-motor car just anywhere because not many people make them yet,” Drako said. “We’re really talking about the future here.”
Drako said the company will target suppliers of high-performance street-legal electric vehicles, not to be confused with electric vehicles designed for professional racing.
And though the company has yet to attract outside investors, Drako said he believes his technology is far ahead of any competition that exists in the market. Though there are companies like Tesla motors that are dedicated to developing similar technology, Drako said other major players in the automobile industry will simply be too far behind to pose a threat.
“The industry is going through a big change, and we’re going to capitalize on that change,” Drako said. “Because we’re ahead of everyone else, we’ll win a significant market share, and end up with a high valuation.”
Dave Tuttle, a Ph.D candidate at The University of Texas at Austin who specializes in electric powered vehicles, said he also sees the four-motor torque vectoring system becoming standard for high-performance electric cars.
“In terms of high-performance vehicles, there really is no better option,” Tuttle said.
Before earning his Master’s degree in electrical engineering at The University of California, Berkeley, Drako paid for his undergraduate college education at the University of Michigan through selling software that allowed its users to maintain a rudimentary version of an online bulletin board.
Since then, Drako has founded and led multiple companies within various industries, and owns 29 patents in different fields ranging from cyber security to software for semiconductors. He is widely recognized for his success with Barracuda Networks, a company that provides protection for email and cloud servers from outside threats, which went public in 2013.
As the CEO and founder of Austin-based Eagle Eye Networks, which sells cloud-based security systems for businesses, Drako acquired Brivo, which specializes in cloud-based solutions for access control for office buildings, for $50 million in June.
“I love dislocations in industries,” Drako said. “I believe big changes create tremendous opportunities for new innovation.”
Drako said he loves Austin for its booming startup scene, and praised the city for what he called a “beautiful balance” between excitement and development. Serving as a mentor at Capital Factory, Drako said he wants to be a guide to those wanting to start their own ventures, a luxury he did not have.
“Everyone that could have been my mentor told me that my ideas were too risky,” Drako said. “Letting them hold me back from pursuing my ideas earlier was one of my biggest mistakes.”