Driverless investment tops $1.6B so far this month

After last week’s $582 million in funding for autonomous vehicle companies, you might think that driverless investment would coast for a while. However, this week saw more than $1 billion in support for developing self-driving cars and trucks.

President’s Day is traditionally the time for car sales, but the automakers and big technology companies are looking further ahead with their driverless investments. By 2025, as many as 8 million cars will have autonomous or semi-autonomous capabilities, predicts ABI Research. There are many technical, legal, and marketing problems to be solved in the meantime, but nobody wants to be left behind in the high-stakes race for self-driving vehicles.

Last week, Bain Capital Ventures led a Series A round of $52 million for Ike, which is testing self-driving trucks. Meanwhile, Amazon, which has long been interested in solving the last-mile delivery problem but stayed out of the autonomous vehicle race, changed course. It participated in a Series B round of $530 million led by Sequoia Capital for Aurora Innovation.

Aurora, which is developing an autonomous driver for passenger cars, now has a valuation of $2.5 billion, but it’s hardly the only so-called unicorn in the field. February has been a strong month so far. Let’s take a look at this week’s big driverless investment deals.

February 2019 autonomous vehicle funding

Company Name Amount (Millions $) Funding Stage Lead Investors Date
Aurora Innovation 530 Series B Sequoia Capital, Amazon 2/7/2019
Ike 52 Series A Bain Capital Ventures 2/5/2019
May Mobility 22 Series A Millennium New Horizons, Cyrus Capital Partners 2/12/2019 940 Post-Series A SoftBank Vision Fund, Greylock Partners, Gaorong Capital 2/11/2019
TuSimple 95 Series D Sina Corp. 2/13/2019

Driverless investment flows to tests in progress

Ann Arbor, Mich.-based May Mobility Inc. said its Series A funding will help it expand its engineering and operations. Investors included LG Technology Ventures, BMW iVentures, Toyota AI Ventures, and Y Combinator. BMW and Toyota, which are pursuing their own research and partnerships, are among the automakers spreading driverless investment across multiple companies.

May Mobility claims to be “the only enterprise autonomous transportation company providing daily transit to the American public.” It is already offering shuttle rides in Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, and it plans to expand to Grand Rapids, Mich., and Providence, R.I.

Similarly, TuSimple, which raised $95 million, is already testing its self-driving trucks in the U.S. Southwest. In fact, it’s already making money delivering loads.

The biggest driverless investment of the week was the SoftBank Vision Fund’s $940 million for, making it another unicorn. Nuro’s autonomous delivery vehicles are closer to Starship’s rolling robots and Amazon’s Scout than, say, a Tesla or Waymo car, but they all require the same situational awareness and safety features. Ike uses Nuro’s technology, demonstrating this interdependence.

Nuro received driverless investment this week.

A Nuro delivery vehicle.

In technologies related to driverless vehicles, Tesla Inc. this month acquired battery maker Maxwell Technologies Inc. for $218 million. The Canadian government’s Strategic Innovation Fund and BlackBerry are pumping $350 million into BlackBerry’s QNX autonomous vehicle unit.

Sunning Holdings Group invested in “Internet of vehicles” firm Shanghai Pateo Network Technology Service Co. The Bank of Shanghai also granted Pateo $222 million in credit.

Merging traffic

There is some skepticism around the promises of safer transportation — especially as robotic and human drivers start to share the roads — and cheaper sensors, 5G communications, and Level 5 autonomy have yet to be realized. This is why driverless investment and partnerships are going to startups that are fairly far along in R&D.

This year, the car or truck next to you might have a safety driver testing autonomous systems, and you may be among those who get something delivered by a wheeled robot. The plethora of self-driving startups will start to get gobbled up, especially as some (at lower levels of autonomy) reach commercial maturity.

For example, Dynamic Map Platform Co. (DMP) this week acquired Ushr Inc. for an unspecified amount. Tokyo-based DMP provides high-definition maps of roads in Japan.

Detroit-based Ushr uses lidar and cameras to map North American roads within about four inches of geospatial accuracy. Their joint data and platforms are useful to self-driving developers such as General Motors’ Cruise division.

All of these startups and their deep-pocketed supporters are trying to find the best ways of offering mobility as a service, whether it’s for a long-haul load, an individual parcel, or urban and suburban passengers. We don’t yet know for sure how car-buying habits, traffic patterns, regulations, and logistics efficiencies will change. Today’s driverless investments are seeking answers.

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