November 14, 2016      

AdasWorks, an autonomous vehicle startup based in Hungary, has changed its name to “AImotive” and opened an office in Mountain View, Calif. to bring its AI-powered software for self-driving cars to the US.

AImotive isn’t focusing on hardware and chips, instead it has built a full-stack system called aiDrive that is designed to be a Level 5 system, meaning passengers simply need to input their destination and the car does the rest. aiDrive consists of a recognition engine, location engine, motion engine and control engine. AImotive global COO Niko Eiden tells Robotics Trends that the recognition engine is the heart of aiDrive as it’s connected to all the sensors in the car.

“Having one centralized computer will make things easier and much less expensive,” Eiden says. “The recognition engine is vision-based. We believe the way to design an architecture is to concentrate on vision and a human-like approach to driving. Traffic signs and traffic lights are made for human vision. Instead of relying on 3D mapping, we want our cars to see the roads as humans would so we can drop our car into any part of the road and it’ll drive.”

Founded in 2015, AImotive has grown from 15 engineers to 120 engineers and researchers.

How aiDrive Works

The name change reflects AImotive’s vision of creating self-driving cars that work worldwide in any weather. To do this, the recognition engine takes information from between six and twelve cameras and breaks it down. Eiden says the recognition engine is a continuously learning engine has a pixel-precise segmentation tool that can recognize up to 100 different objects, including pedestrians, bicycles, animals, buildings and obstacles.

The location engine uses standard GPS and data captured by the recognition engine to identify where the self-driving car is on the road. The motion engine then takes all that information and tracks, in real time, moving objects and predicts the speed and future path of all moving objects to allow the self-driving car to take the optimal route. The control engine is the execution component that manages acceleration, braking, steering, gear shifting, and auxiliary functions such as turn signals, headlights and the car horn.

AImotive’s training technique is also scalable, with a real-time simulator tool that trains the AI for a wide variety of traffic scenarios and weather conditions.

Eiden says aiDrive is hardware agnostic, meaning it can work with any camera and computer chip. To keep the costs down, AImotive uses off-the-shelf components. Eiden says its Toyota Prius test car, for example, has about $2,000 worth of self-driving electronics (cameras, processing unit), but that figure could eventually drop to $500 over time.

AImotive has been working with the Kronos Group to create standards for the deployment and acceleration of neural network technology. AImotive recently said it “saw the growing need for platform-independent neural network-based software solutions in the autonomous driving space. We cooperate closely with chip companies to help them build low-power, high-performance neural network hardware and believe firmly that an industry standard, which works across multiple platforms, will be beneficial for the whole market. We are happy to see numerous companies joining the initiative.”

AImotive aiDriveNVIDIA-based computer in the trunk of AImotive’s self-driving car. (Credit: AImotive)

AImotive Still Needs California Driver’s License

AImotive, which has conducted street tests in Hungary, doesn’t have permission yet to test its aiDrive-powered self-driving cars on public roads in California, but Eiden says opening the Silicon Valley office will help get the process started. “It’s a complicated process,” Eiden says. “We need to have employees in the US before we apply for the license. Because we’re not established in the US, it just takes time.”

The move to California brings AImotive closer to one of its investors, NVIDIA. The two companies could also be seen as competitors, but Eiden says the relationship with NVIDIA is great. CEO and founder Lazlo Kishonti spun AImotive out of his automotive testing company, Kishonti Ltd., after helping NVIDIA provide self-driving car technology to Tesla, which uses NVIDIA computers in its latest cars and Autopilot.

NVIDIA and AImotive are working together on a self-driving car project for Volvo. AIMotive has raised a total of $10.5 million. Other investors include Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Inventure, Draper Associates, Day One Capital Fund Management and the Tamares Group.

AImotive’s self-driving car uses inexpensive cameras to detect objects on the road. (Credit: AImotive)

Eiden says the company plans to open offices in Japan and China in 2017. Eiden says AImotive also wants to eventually open an office in Finland because it “has the best autonomous driving regulations in place. If you can ensure the safety of the self-driving car, you can legally drive on the streets without a safety driver in place.”

When Will aiDrive be Ready

Eiden says it’s impossible to predict when fully autonomous vehicles will be available to the masses.

“The pace at which neural networks are developing is breath-taking,” says Eiden. “Nobody has been using AI inside cars on public roads like we’re planning. We can move faster than corporations at this point because our size. But, there are many from a legislation standpoint that need to develop. We think we could have a car on the roads by 2020-2021, but there are things around us that we can’t control. So it’ll most likely be beyond that when we have a car available for people on the roads. But have far beyond that? I can’t really say.”

AImotive is also listed as an exhibitor at CES 2017 in Las Vegas. Self-driving cars have had a huge presence at CES in recent years, maybe AImotive will be showcasing its aiDrive self-driving car system up and down the Strip.