British Startup FiveAI Will Start Trials of Autonomous Vehicles in London in 2019

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【Summary】After raising $35 million during a Series A funding round last year, startup FiveAI is now looking to test a fleet of autonomous cars in London next year.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Aug 19, 2018 12:00 PM PT
British Startup FiveAI Will Start Trials of Autonomous Vehicles in London in 2019

The majority of automakers and technology companies have graduated from their humble beginnings of starting to develop autonomous technology to working on finding ways to test them publicly. Public testing is still key, as it's the best way for artificial intelligence systems and companies to learn how their vehicles operate in the real world. 

In the United States, Waymo has become the clear leader and the benchmark of the autonomous industry, as the company has covered a total of 8 million miles of public testing. Besides Waymo, Uber also became a household name because of its self-driving vehicles that are in various cities across the country. By last September, Uber's vehicles had covered a total of 1 million miles. 

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Testing On Roads To Commence In 2019

While things are relatively quiet in Britain when it comes to publicly testing self-driving cars, U.K. startup FiveAI is looking to shake things up by announcing that it will have a fleet of driverless cars on the road in London by 2019. When FiveAi's vehicles hit they road, they'll join cars from Britain's Autodrive trials, which have been testing for some time already.

As Business Insider reports, FiveAI is putting five of its autonomous vehicles on the road around Bromley and Croydon, suburbs in South London, to gather data to train its self-driving cars. The vehicles, which are bright-blue Ford Fusions that are covered with sensors and a massive LiDAR system, will be on the roads for 10 months. While driving around, the vehicles will get a better understanding of road layouts, how drivers interact with one another, and how traffic flows. 

The vehicles don't really blend onto the road with their bright paint scheme, host of hardware components, and "FiveAI" signs along the side. The reason for having easy-to-spot vehicles is to comply with Europe's stringent privacy regulation, states Business Insider, as well as the GDPR and to let the public know who's gathering information in a clear manner. Apparently, none of the individuals that are captured by the car's cameras will be identifiable. 

In another move to be as safe as possible, FiveAI's vehicles will have human drivers behind the wheel of the cars at all times. And the data they gather will help the startup come out with shared, driverless taxis in London by 2019. Autonomous vehicles are expected to be on the road before the end of the year. 

The move to begin to trial vehicles on UK roads is the first time the startup has ventured outside of its testing facility at the Milbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire, states TechCrunch. 

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FiveAI Wants To Battle Bigger Companies With More Money

FiveAi became a little more notable when it raised $35 million during a successful Series A round. Lakestar Capital, an investment company founded by Klaus Hommels, led the Series A round. Other companies that were included in the Series A round included Amadeus Capital Partners, Notion Capital, and Kindred. 

FiveAI is a fantastic example where the UK has the talent, ambition and market to build a truly successful technology-led company," said Dharmash Mistry, a member of Lakestar Capital that joined FiveAI's board, after the Series A round. "Dense European cities present totally different technical, behavioral, regulatory and infrastructure challenges to their US and Chinese counterparts for safe urban driverless technologies." 

While raising $35 million during a funding round is no easy task, it is outshined by what Chinese and American companies bring in during their funding rounds. As TechCrunch points out, no more than $100 million has been raised by autonomous startups in Europe. For the U.S., that figure sits around $8 billion. For example, Zoox, one of the newest startups from the U.S. has raised a total of $800 million. 

If FiveAi wants to replace Uber and Google in Europe, it's going to need to raise a lot more money. Stan Boland, FiveAI's chief executive, has a theory on why the company will be able to compete with foreign companies. 

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How Europe Differs From The U.S. For Autonomous Testing

"If I were [US companies] Waymo, Uber or Aurora…and I was trying to solve the problem of safer driving, I would choose to do it somewhere where it's an easier problem," Boland told Business Insider. "In Europe, our cities are medieval and complicated, density is much higher, human behaviours are different. Our cities were built from villages…I think a European city is much harder than a US city." 

What Boland is saying, is that cities like London are difficult for autonomous vehicles to learn. The majority of cities in the United States are laid out in a grid pattern and have clearly-marked street markers. That's not the case for major cities in Europe, which have windy roads, old road signs, and different building structures. Having a European startup developing and testing an autonomous vehicle in the location that it will be used in will work out better than having a company like Uber and Waymo trying to take their autonomous vehicles overseas.

To that end, TechCrunch claims that FiveAi is about to start a new round of funding. Ben Peters, FiveAI's VP of product and one of the co-founders of the company believes that the latest round will be the company's largest. And with the new funding, FiveAI wants to expand to more cities in Europe. 

FiveAI chose London, specifically Bromley and Croydon, for a few reasons, reports TechCrunch. Apparently, the locations offer the company with "friendly users" that are open to the new technology. One of FiveAI's partners, an insurance company called Direct Line, has offices at both Bromley and Croydon.  

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