Artificial Intelligence

Wayve secures $1B for Tesla-like self-driving tech across multiple carmakers

“For the first time, we will see machines we trust physically interacting with our world, enriching people’s lives, freeing them to focus on what matters most. This will mark the beginning of a new era of technology that promises to be more transformative than any that came before it.”

By Business OutstandersPUBLISHED: May 7, 15:38
Alex Kendall CEO, Wayve
Alex Kendall CEO, Wayve

Wayve, a U.K.-based startup developing a self-learning rather than rule-based autonomous driving system, has raised $1.05 billion in Series C funding led by SoftBank Group. This is the UK's largest AI fundraise to date, and it ranks among the top 20 AI fundraises globally.

Nvidia and Microsoft, an existing investor, also contributed to the fundraising. Wayve's early investors included Yann LeCun, Meta's head of AI.

The company intends to use the new funding to further develop its product for "eyes on" assisted driving, "yes off" fully automated driving, and other AI-assisted automotive applications. It intends to expand operations globally.

San Francisco has emerged as the epicenter of autonomous driving rollouts, with Alphabet-owned Waymo and General Motors-owned Cruise both operating services in the city. Wayve's "end-to-end" self-driving system, on the other hand, began its journey through Cambridge's narrow streets in an electric Renault Twizy, a two-seater microcar.

Since then, it has been training its model on delivery vehicles for companies such as Ocado, a UK-based grocery delivery company that invested $13.6 million in the startup.

Wayve, which was founded in Cambridge in 2017, raised $200 million in a Series B round led by Eclipse Ventures in January 2022, having previously led the company's $20 million Series A round in 2019.

Wayve's approach to autonomous driving is similar to Tesla's, but the company intends to sell its autonomous driving model to a number of auto OEMs. The implication, of course, is that Wayve will collect a lot more training data from which to improve its model, whereas Tesla must rely on someone purchasing their car brand. The company has yet to announce any such automotive partners.

Wayve refers to its hardware-agnostic mapless product as "Embodied AI," and it intends to distribute its platform not only to car manufacturers, but also to robotics companies that serve manufacturers of all types, allowing the platform to learn from human behavior in a wide range of real-world environments. The company's research on multimodal and generative models, known as LINGO and GAIA, will provide "language-responsive interfaces, personalized driving styles, and co-piloting," the company promises.

Wayve co-founder and CEO Alex Kendall told TechCrunch, "We founded the company seven years ago to build an embodied AI." We have focused on developing technology. Last year, everything started to work properly."

He said the key moment has been the automotive industry's "step change" toward having cameras surround new cars, from which Wayve can draw data for its autonomous platform: "Now their production vehicles are coming out with GPUs, surrounding cameras, radar, and of course the appetite to now bring AI onto, and enable, an accelerated journey from assisted to automated driving. So this fundraise validates our technological approach and provides us with the capital to turn this technology into a product and bring it to market."

He also mentioned that Wayve has big plans for robotics.

"Wayve's AI will soon be integrated into new cars available for purchase..." Then this is used to enable all types of embodied AI, including cars and other forms of robotics. I believe that the ultimate goal here is to go far beyond where AI is today, with language models and chatbots. But to truly enable a future in which we can trust intelligent machines that we can delegate tasks to, and of course they can improve our lives, self-driving will be the first example.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak issued a statement in support of the fundraise, saying: "From the first electric light bulb or the World Wide Web, to AI and self-driving cars — the U.K. has a proud record of being at the forefront of some of the biggest technological advancements in history."

"I'm incredibly proud that the United Kingdom is home to pioneers like Wayve, who are breaking ground as they develop the next generation of AI models for self-driving cars." The fact that a British company has secured the largest investment in a UK AI company to date demonstrates our industry leadership and the effectiveness of our economic strategy," he said.

"We are working tirelessly to create the economic conditions necessary for businesses to grow and thrive in the United Kingdom. We already have the third-highest number of AI companies and private investment in AI in the world, and this announcement solidifies the United Kingdom's position as an AI superpower," he said.

Kentaro Matsui, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers and Wayve board member, stated that artificial intelligence is revolutionizing mobility. This type of technology has the potential to transform society by eliminating 99% of traffic accidents. SoftBank Group is excited to be at the forefront of this effort with Wayve, as advanced intelligence redefines mobility and connectivity, contributing to a more convenient and safer society."

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