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Apple Reportedly Making a Bid to Purchase Drive.ai

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【Summary】Yes, Apple’s still working on an autonomous program, but reports indicate that a possible bid to buy out startup Drive.ai would bring more engineers familiar with autonomous technology into the mix.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Jun 12, 2019 10:13 AM PT
Apple Reportedly Making a Bid to Purchase Drive.ai

There was a time when Apple was making headlines for every minor thing it did in the autonomous tech segment. Things have gone pretty quiet when it comes to Apple's autonomous program, but a recent report by Bloomberg makes it sound like Apple is still at it and constantly looking to become a major player in the scene.

Apple Looking To Get Drive.ai's Personnel

According to the outlet's report, Apple is in the process of buying startup Drive.ai. The deal would bring engineers that are familiar with autonomous technology to the tech giant. Unnamed sources that are familiar with the matter shared the news with Bloomberg.

The report doesn't clarify how much the deal would be worth, but it claims that Drive.ai has raised roughly $77 million in funding since its inception four years ago in 2015. Drive.ai's latest round of Series B funding back in the summer of 2017 raised $50 million led by NEA and GGV. Bloomberg, citing data from Pitchbook, states that the company was valued at roughly $200 million in 2017.

The deal, as the outlet points out, is referred to as "acqui-hire" and involves a larger tech company buying a small startup in an attempt to gain talent. Apple's not really interested in the company's intellectual property, but is looking to absorb some of its staff. There's still a lot that's unknown about the deal, like whether Apple has specific Drive.ai employees in mind or whether Apple's looking at one specific portion of the company's program.

"We believe the potential acquisition price would be below their last $200M valuation," said Gene Munster, an Apple analyst at Loup Ventures, in a research note.

What Has Drive.ai And Apple Been Up To?

Drive.ai was founded by in 2015 by a team from Stanford University Artificial Intelligence lab. The company set up shop in Mountain View, California and received a license to test autonomous cars in the state. When Drive.ai first appeared on the scene, the company focused on coming out with a self-driving vehicle that used "deep learning" as a way to communicate with pedestrians and other cars.

Since then, Drive.ai has expanded, launching an autonomous ride-hailing service with bright orange paint schemes in Frisco, Texas. The six-month program offered residents with free rides around geo-fenced locations.

The only thing we've heard about Apple recently is that it's been looking for suppliers for sensors for its driverless cars. The other thing we've heard this year, is that Apple has cut 200 employees from its autonomous program, which came at the beginning of the year. Apple, then, certainly has the extra space for some new employees.

While purchasing the startup would make sense for Apple, it's not a surefire thing. As Bloomberg reports, Drive.ai has been looking for a buyer for quite some time and an unnamed source that's familiar with the matter claimed that the company hasn't gained traction yet. Then, there's the matter of whether Drive.ai would actually be able to help Apple, as the technology company's autonomous driving program is reportedly well ahead of the curve.

"Apple's primary ambitions in autonomy lie in the broad application of autonomous systems and related services," said Munster. "Their potential acquisition of Drive.ai would bring a new crop of engineering talent to aid in these efforts, but we do not expect a consumer product or service from Apple for 4+ years." 

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