Investors go back to basics with simpler self-driving vehicles

COVENTRY, England — Developing a fully self-driving, go-anywhere vehicle is proving to be more difficult and costly than expected, but investors are lining up pedestrians and other unpredictable human-operated vehicles. It continues to fund startups targeting simpler self-driving car solutions that are far from the norm.

UK AV software company Oxbotica, Sweden’s Einride, US Outrider, UK supplier Aurrigo International and others are more focused, targeting smaller and simpler customer segments, from mining vehicles to tractors and forklifts. It is one of the companies that attracts investor interest with its approach.

After seeing robo-taxis companies spend billions on decades-ahead technology, investors are looking for startups that spend less cash and hopefully are already profitable, he said. said Kasper Sage, managing partner of BMW’s venture capital fund BMW iVentures, which led the automated forklift. Fox Robotics’ his $20 million funding round in October.

“Complete autonomy in all kinds of environments is still years, if not decades away,” said Sage. “We need a business case that works, and we need to make the problem small.”

Previous promises by robo-taxis companies to have fleets operational by the early 2020s have not been fully met.

When Ford and Volkswagen closed their self-driving arm Argo AI in November, Ford CEO Jim Farley said a profitable robo-taxis business was still years away.

Ford’s rival General Motors spent about $2 billion on its cruise robotaxi division last year and said it expects to spend even more in 2023.

The problem is that it is very difficult to build a robot car that can drive more safely than a human. This is because AV systems still lack the human ability to quickly predict and assess risk, especially when unexpected incidents occur.

As it became clear that the age of robo-taxis was still far away, investors turned to self-driving truck companies in 2021 instead. Self-driving truck companies have promised faster routes to market by carrying cargo autonomously. speed without pedestrians.

But these startups are struggling to make ends meet because fast-driving robots are still no match for the human brain.

For example, Aurora, an AV truck technology company, has a $2 billion market cap compared to $12.5 billion when it goes public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in 2021.

keep it simple

Faced with the long-term challenge of humans and robots not getting along well, investors are going back to basics and targeting simpler, less cash-intensive forms of autonomy with a clearer path to return on investment. I’m here. traffic.

BMW iVentures has also invested in AV truck technology company Kodiak Robotics, which is taking a simpler approach in areas such as mapping, according to managing partner Sage.

In October, Kodiak won a $50 million contract to develop an AV for the U.S. Army.

Kodiak CEO Don Burnette said:

Overall venture investment in AV companies fell 47% to $1.4 billion in the fourth quarter from the same period last year, according to Jonathan Jerkink, senior analyst at PitchBook.

But $500 million of that went to AV-electric truck company Einride, which is working to put self-driving trucks on public roads, but initially to customers like GE Appliances, a division of China. Focus on uncrowded driveways in logistics and manufacturing hubs. Home appliance manufacturer Haier.

Asad Hussain, research partner at private equity firm Mobility, said: impact partners.

“Somewhere, not anywhere”

Last month, UK AV software startup Oxbotica announced it had raised $140 million in funding to roll out more products, starting with AVs that work in mines and remote locations.

Gavin Jackson, CEO of Oxbotica, said:

Jamie Vollbracht, founding partner of Kiko Ventures, IP Group’s $450 million clean technology investment platform, said mining companies could make millions of dollars an hour in remote areas if they couldn’t put human drivers on their trucks. We said we could lose dollars. A viable market for AV. Kiko He was Oxbotica’s first institutional investor.

“The scale of these early (AV) applications has been greatly underestimated,” says Vollbracht.

US startup Outrider announced in January that it had raised $73 million in funding to scale up its current slow-moving self-driving trucks in customer delivery yards.

Construction and agricultural equipment used off-road in low traffic is another growing area for AV startups. The company works with traditional heavy equipment manufacturers such as Caterpillar, Deere and CNH Industrial, who have also invested in his AV technology.

Like Oxbotica, Apex.AI designs AV software for use in a variety of vehicles for “a large number of non-automotive and non-truck customers with a wide range of applications.”

For example, US agricultural equipment manufacturer AGCO is using software from a Palo Alto, Calif.-based startup in its automated electric planters for testing.

As Deere moves toward autonomy, it has already acquired a number of AV companies, including self-driving tractor Bear Flag Robotics for $250 million in 2021.

San Francisco-based Trucks Venture Capital invested in Bear Flag prior to the sale, and managing partner Reilly Brennan said the company is “actively looking for another autonomous AG[startup].” Told.

Trucks Venture Capital also invested in Teleo. Teleo, a maker of semi-autonomous retrofits for heavy construction equipment and mining equipment, last June announced a $12 million funding round.

Teleo’s system allows a human operator to remotely control multiple slow-moving AVs and only take over in situations the software can’t handle. CEO Vinay Shet said that by combining the best AV software with human brains, Teleo “can be on the market today, plus he won’t wait 10 years, he won’t wait 20 years to build a real product. I was able to do it,” he said.

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