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Startup to Watch: can Pony.ai become a disrupter in the self-driving car industry?

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【Summary】Startups are popping up one by one, hoping to grab a share in this booming market of future cars. Pony.ai is one. Futurecar met one of the company’s founding members Leo Wang at the startup demo event held by RobotX Space last Thursday.

Original Claire    Jun 13, 2017 11:16 AM PT
Startup to Watch: can Pony.ai become a disrupter in the self-driving car industry?

In Silicon Valley, self-driving technology is booming like never before. Almost all of the major automakers and tech giants are delving into this field. So far, Google's Waymo has accumulated millions of testing miles on autonomous vehicles; Apple's Titan Project remains secretive yet reportedly ongoing; Uber is just in the center of controversy all for its ambition in advancing driverless technology; and Lyft partners with GM, Nutonomy and many more to speed up ride-sharing autonomous cars.

There's hardly any car company or OEM that is completely unrelated to autonomous driving right now. What's more, startups are popping up one by one, hoping to grab a share in this booming market of future cars. Pony.ai is one.

Futurecar met with one of the company's founding members Leo Wang at the startup demo event held by RobotX Space last Thursday. With their slogan "the road is life", the secretive company is rumored to have gained seed funding from Sequoia Capital and IDG Ventures, and could be valued at $90 million, according to Chinese media QbitAI.

"We were founded in last December, with ambition, to bring the latest breakthrough in AI to the general public. We want to revolutionize the public transportation system...and create the safest, reliable and cost-effective solution for full autonomous driving vehicles." Wang said at the demo speech.

In an interview with Futurecar, he revealed that their team is expanding quickly, with two offices already built in Beijing and Silicon Valley.

"From the technology perspective, we are aiming for level-4 autonomy, and have mainly adopted the sensor fusion technology with a focus on LiDAR. We are now proceeding our research and development in both China and US right now." Wang said.

He revealed that Pony.ai is in the process of applying for self-driving testing permit from California Department of Motor Vehicles. Meanwhile, the startup is testing its vehicle, which is a Lincoln MKZ,  in private areas instead of on public roads to collect enough data.

"Lincoln has a complete drive-by-wire system. Its mature platform for software development is sound and robust. Before us a lot of companies have been testing its technology using the car model." Wang said, adding that they also installed Velodyne's LiDAR in the driverless car testing system.

"Instead of focusing on a specific module of autonomous vehicles, our focus is to remodel a car's software and hardware systems to transform it into a self-driving vehicle." he said.

According to Wang,  the majority of the team members were ex-Google or ex-Baidu engineers, who not only have years of industrial experience, but also a deep passion for self-driving cars. QbitAI also noted that Lou Tiancheng, dubbed "ACRush", is the major founder of Pony.ai. Tiancheng remains quite low-key, although he was once the senior engineer of Baidu's self-driving car program, and also a very famous coder within the tech geek circle - a two-time winner of Google Code Jam in 2008 and 2009.

Currently, Pony.ai is in talks with companies for long-term partnerships, and look for more talents to join team. He did not release more details in terms of the company's potential cooperations and future plans, but remained confident that Pony.ai differs from other self-driving startups with its leading technology.


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