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Chinese Automaker BYD Forms Joint Venture with Momenta to Develop Autonomous Driving Technology for its Models in China

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【Summary】Chinese automaker BYD and self-driving technology startup Momenta have established a new joint venture to deploy autonomous driving technology across BYD car model lines. The new company, named DiPi Intelligent Mobility Co., combines BYD's capabilities as an automaker and the ability to manufacture vehicles at scale with Momenta's experience in autonomous driving.

Eric Walz    Feb 02, 2022 12:20 PM PT
Chinese Automaker BYD Forms Joint Venture with Momenta to Develop Autonomous Driving Technology for its Models in China
A robotaxi vehicle in China powered by Momenta's autonomous driving technology.

One of China's biggest automaker's BYD and autonomous driving startup Momenta have established a 100 million yuan ($15.7 million) joint venture to deploy autonomous driving technology across BYD car model lines, according to a Momenta statement.

The new venture is called "DiPi Intelligent Mobility Co" and  the company is headquartered in Shenzhen.

The new company combines BYD's capabilities and the ability to manufacture vehicles at scale with Momenta's experience in intelligent driving, accroding to a statement on Monday.

BYD invested 60 million yuan in the venture while Beijing-based Momenta is investing 40 million yuan, the person said.

The initial scope of work will include deploying SAE "Level 2 plus" autonomous driving capability across some BYD models in China, which requires a driver to pay attention and be ready to take over if needed.

BYD, which is based in Shenzhen, is China's largest manufacturer of EVs. The company is backed by U.S. investor Warren Buffett. BYD builds passenger cars, fully electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and electric buses. The company was founded in 1995 as a battery manufacturer before branching out to building electric vehicles.

Momenta was founded in 2016 and is based in Beijing, but also has an office in Stuttgart, Germany. The company bills itself as a Tier 2 software provider, developing solutions for Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs like BYD, which helps them to add robust autonomous capabilities to their production models.

As a young startup, Momenta was part of the Nvidia Inception Program, an accelerator which provides deep-learning support from Nvidia for exceptional startups who are revolutionizing industries with advances in AI and data science. As part of the program, Nvidia provides market support to promising companies, as well as its expertise and access to its powerful hardware technologies.

Momenta is also one of China's most well funded autonomous driving startups. The company closed on a $500 million funding round in November. The round included an investment of $200 million from Chinese automaker SAIC Motor Corp and Yunfeng Capital, founded by Alibaba Group co-founder and billionaire Jack Ma.

Momenta said the funding will be used to help accelerate applications of the company's autonomous driving solutions, according to its CEO Cao Xudong. 

Momenta's latest funding round also included a $300 Million investment from U.S. automaker General Motors. The automaker announced in September it was investing in Momenta to accelerate the development of next-generation self-driving technologies for future GM vehicles sold in China.  

Momenta's total funding reached $1 billion in 2021, after a $500 million funding round announced in March. It was the biggest investment in any autonomous driving startup in China, according to Chinese news outlet Gasgoo.

Other investors in Momenta include Toyota Motor Corp, Bosch, Mercedes-Benz, IDG Capital and Tencent.

Momenta views the investments from automakers as a vote of confidence and trust in its AI-powered autonomous driving technology. Momenta's CFO, Zhang Peng, told a local media outlet in November that the recognition from major automakers like GM and Toyota that invested in the company is far more valuable than the actual dollar amount of the investments. 

Momenta takes a data-driven approach in improving its self-driving technology. Compared with human-driven algorithms, data-driven algorithms are scalable, can solve rare edge cases and achieve faster iteration at lower cost, according to the company.

Momenta's cost-efficient process is able to filter and label massive amounts of driving data and deploy its algorithms to more driving scenarios, allowing them to become smarter, which in turn improves the performance of Monemta's autonomous driving technology. The algorithms are used for perception, fusion, prediction and planning and motion control. The process itself generates additional real-world data that Momenta can use to further refine its algorithms.

Momenta calls its unique data collection process "Flywheel" L4.

"Our data-driven automation flywheel requires massive data input, generated by hundreds-of-billions of kilometers of  driving," CEO Cao said to Bloomberg in early November. "There's no way for us to reach this goal by merely establishing our own fleet. We have to work with production cars." 

The new BYD and Momenta joint venture partnership is one of many in the auto industry, as automakers invest billions to develop self-driving technology and turn to technology partners for assistance to create the future of mobility.

In 2020, Toyota partnered with Momenta to develop a high definition (HD) mapping platform in China for autonomous vehicles.

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