Wayve, an AI autonomous driving startup, raises $1 billion

Wayve, a London-based maker of artificial intelligence systems for autonomous vehicles, said Tuesday that it had raised $1 billion, a staggering sum for a European startup and an example of investor optimism about AI’s capability Transform industries.

SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that backed Uber and other technology companies, was the lead investor along with Microsoft and Nvidia. Wayve’s previous investors include Yann LeCun, Meta’s chief AI scientist.

Wayve, which previously raised around $300 million, did not disclose its valuation following the investment.

Wayve was co-founded in 2017 by Alex Kendall, a University of Cambridge PhD student specializing in computer vision and robotics. Unlike generative AI models that generate human-like text and images developed by OpenAI, Google and Anthropic, Wayve’s so-called embodied AI systems serve as brains for physical objects, be they cars, robots or manufacturing systems. AI enables a machine to make decisions independently in real time.

“The full potential of AI is that we have machines in the physical world that we can trust,” Mr. Kendall said.

Companies focused on autonomous driving face one bumpy time. The technology is expensive and difficult to develop and is subject to intense regulatory scrutiny. Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of General Motors, took its self-driving cars off the road last year for safety and legal reasons. Apple recently has abandoned its efforts to develop self-driving cars after years of development.

Wayve, which employs around 300 people, has been testing its technology on UK roads since 2018 and will soon expand elsewhere. The software uses cameras, sensors and other advanced vehicle technology to detect and respond to different driving environments. The data collected as the car navigates through a city is fed back into the AI ​​system to help cars learn.

The approach differs from other autonomous vehicle developers such as Waymo, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet. Wayve said its technology doesn’t rely as heavily on high-resolution maps or lidar sensors, a laser tool for measuring distance and detecting objects. Tesla has taken a similar approach to Wayve in recent years.

Wayve has developed software that explains in plain English why a car made a particular driving decision – such as why it suddenly stopped or slowed down – a level of transparency that will help convince regulators.

The amount raised by Wayve is among the largest recent startup investments in Europe, which has historically lagged behind the U.S. in venture capital and technology funding. In December, mistrala French AI developer, raised 385 million euros, or about $415 million.

“I am incredibly proud that the UK is home to pioneers like Wayve who are breaking new ground in developing the next generation of AI models for self-driving cars,” British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said in a statement.

Mr Kendall, who is from New Zealand, said the investment from SoftBank and others would allow the company to turn its research into a fully-fledged commercial product. He said Wayve is negotiating with several major automakers to make their software available for purchase in cars, but declined to name them.

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