Investments from major automakers and technology companies are continuing to fuel the race for fully autonomous vehicles, which are being tested worldwide. Fremont, Calif.-based Pony.ai announced this week that it has raised $462 million in funding.
Pony.ai was founded in 2016 by James Peng, who is now CEO, and Tiancheng Lou, who is now chief technology officer. Both of them worked previously at Google and Baidu.
The startup, which has facilities in the U.S. and China, has developed a perception module that it said “combines the strengths of a heuristic approach and deep learning models,” as well as sensor-fusion technology.
Pony.ai has also built a planning and control module and a real-time onboard system paired with off-vehicle data processing and management. The company said its goal is Level 4 autonomy, in which vehicles rarely need human intervention.
Logging miles with Pony.ai
Pony.ai began testing autonomous vehicles in California in 2017, and it began offering robotic taxicab services in Guangzhou, China, in 2018. Last year, it partnered with Toyota Motor Corp. in Japan, Hyundai Motor Co. in South Korea, and GAC Group in China. The company also passed the 1.5 million-kilometer (930,000-mile) mark in autonomous miles driven.
Pony.ai has started offering public robotaxi rides in Irvine, Calif., which it claimed was the first such service in the state. Last month, it announced a partnership with ON Semiconductor to develop machine vision technologies.
Self-driving cars see green lights
Toyota led Pony.ai’s latest fundraising round, which brings the self-driving startup’s valuation to more than $3 billion, reported Reuters. It also participated in previous rounds.
According to PitchBook, there have been 323 transactions among autonomous vehicle companies worth a total of $14.6 billion worldwide over the past two years. Here are some of the top transactions from last year:
|Company||Amt. (M$)||Type||Date||Acquirer, investor, partner|
|Argo AI||2600||investment||7/11/2019||Volkswagen AG|
|Cruise||1150||investment||5/7/2019||T. Rowe Price Associates, Honda Motor Corp., SoftBank Vision Fund, General Motors|
|Uber ATG||1000||investment||4/18/2019||SoftBank Vision Fund, Toyota, DENSO|
|Nuro.ai||940||investment||2/11/2019||SoftBank Vision Fund|
|Aurora Innovation Inc.||600||Series B||6/12/2019||Hyundai Motor Group, Baillie Gifford, Amazon.com Inc.|
|Aurora Innovation Inc.||530||investment||2/7/2019||Sequoia|
|Weltmeister Motor||450||Series C||3/11/2019||Baidu Inc.|
|Xpeng Motors||400||Series C||11/13/2019||Xiaomi|
However, technological, regulatory, and traffic concerns persist. Pony.ai backer Toyota has been more cautious than some automakers, positioning itself as a “mobility services provider” and acknowledging that fully autonomous vehicles may be years away. It has pursued advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and investments in promising vehicle, robotics, and artificial intelligence companies.
For example, in August 2018, Toyota invested $500 million in Uber Technology Inc.’s Advanced Technologies Group (ATG), with the goal of piloting Uber’s self-driving technology and its own Guardian safety system in Uber’s ride-sharing network in 2021.
Last April, Toyota joined DENSO Corp. and the SoftBank Vision Fund in a $1 billion investment into Uber ATG. The automaker is also building “Woven City,” a test site for autonomous vehicles and robots.