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Drive.ai Raises $50 Million for its Self-Driving Retrofit Technology

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【Summary】Silicon Valley self-driving technology startup Drive.ai has raised a $50 million Series B funding round, led by NEA and with participation from GGV and previous investors, including Series A lead Northern Light. The new funding will help the company to scale its technology.

Original Eric Walz    Jun 27, 2017 2:01 PM PT
Drive.ai Raises $50 Million for its Self-Driving Retrofit Technology

Silicon Valley self-driving technology startup Drive.ai announced today it has raised a $50 million Series B funding round, led by NEA and with participation from GGV and previous investors, including Series A lead Northern Light.

The new funding will help the company to scale its technology, which now focuses on creating retrofit kits that can be used to add self-driving capabilities to existing commercial and business vehicle fleets. The kits will soon be deployed on existing business fleets, with pilots starting later this year.

Drive.ai was founded in 2015 by a team from Stanford University Artificial Intelligence Lab. The company is headquartered in Mountain View, California and licensed to test autonomous vehicles in the state of California.

Initially, Drive.ai was focused on developing a self-driving car that also had a strong focus on intelligent and intuitive communication with the surrounding world. Drive.ai co-founder and CEO Sameep Tandon explains the shift, while noting that communication is still a core aspect of their focus.

"What we build at Drive.ai, you can think of it as an AI brain, and all those parts that are required to remove the human driver from the vehicle," he said. "So we focus on Level 4 autonomous driving. A huge part of that is once you remove the human driver from the vehicle, how these vehicles will interact with people in the real world, and build their trust and depict their intentions. That's something that we is absolutely critical to the safe deployment of autonomous technology."

The Drive.ai approach to self-driving tech is based on the use of deep learning for all aspects of the platform, which the company says will help it achieve better development pace, scalability and efficiency gains. Many others in the field use a hybrid approach, applying deep learning in certain areas but not others, but Drive.ai believes the true gains are best achieved by using it throughout the autonomous system stack.

Drive.ai Plans to Retrofit Traditional Fleet Vehicles

Drive.ai's retrofit kits employ off-the-shelf hardware, including radar, cameras, and LiDAR and other components necessary to transform traditional vehicles into self-driving models. With its new funding, the kits will soon be deployed on existing business fleets, with pilots starting later this year.

Retrofit options are definitely going to be attractive to any fleet operators who have a large pool of existing vehicles and aren't eager to throw out that investment and buy all new cars when autonomy becomes the norm.

"The retrofit kits are intended to be for business fleets, so it's not intended to be something a consumer can install, it'll take a little bit of integration," Tandon said. "But it's intended to make it relatively quick to retrofit a large fleet."

Former Baudi AI Lead Joins Drive.ai Board

Alongside this funding, Drive.ai is also adding two new Directors to its Board, including NEA chairman and head of Asia Carmen Chang, and Coursera co-founder and Google and Baidu AI alum Andrew Ng. Ng is a renowned deep learning expert who led artificial intelligence projects at Baidu and Google. Chang and Ng will help Drive.ai expand in the U.S. and abroad.

"To make self-driving a reality requires an understanding of technology, public policy, business and global society as a whole. Drive.ai deeply understands these requirements and has created a clear leadership position in the race to make self-driving a reality for the world. NEA is thrilled to partner with the talented Drive.ai team as they pioneer the self-driving future. Self-driving transportation is one of the most exciting and important innovations of our time." said Chang.


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