February 11, 2016      

Investors have rewarded more researchers who are working on self-driving vehicles, particularly in fleets for personal transportation on demand. NuTonomy LLC, which develops software for self-driving vehicles, has raised $3.6 million in seed capital.

Investors include Samsung Ventures, Signal Ventures, and Fontinalis Partners, as well as Steven LaValle, former chief scientist at Oculus VR.

Cambridge, Mass.-based nuTonomy has partnered with multiple automotive companies in the U.S. and Europe to test its software for perception, mapping, and localization. The company said its decision-making methods are based on those used in aircraft and spacecraft, so self-driving cars can avoid hesitation and move more smoothly than some do now.

“NuTonomy’s vision is to deliver the world’s smartest autonomous vehicle and be the software engine of automated cars,” said Karl Iagnemma, co-founder and CEO of Nutonomy. “By applying advanced techniques from the aerospace industry, we are creating a self-driving car that is safe, confident, and drives in a truly human-like manner.”

The company claims that its products can help with navigating urban environments, automated parking, and dealing with complex intersections. NuTonomy also provides system-integration services, from design to testing.

The motion-planning software is based on research since 2005 at MIT, with funding from DARPA, NASA, and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART).

In the past two years, SMART tested on-demand driverless transportation with 500 people in Jurong Lake Gardens, a public park in Singapore. NuTonomy co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Emilio Frazzoli was the director of the pilot project.

NuTonomy has also developed more than a dozen autonomous vehicle prototypes, and it is looking to develop technology for “mobility as a service” — urban fleets of self-driving vehicles, similar to the goals of Uber and other automotive manufacturers.

“Google is very advanced, but we don’t think anyone has a solution that would work everywhere in the world today,” Iagnemma said.

The company plans to use the funding to develop it further with its team of six employees in the U.S. and 16 in Singapore, with another public-transit pilot there later this year. NuTonomy is also planning for tests in Minnesota and the U.K.

The government [of Singapore] is strongly supportive of the technology in the form of having clear regulations, but they’re also providing financial support for companies like us and large companies interested in deploying self-driving cars,” said Iagnemma.

Other countries such as the U.K. and the Netherlands are also investigating fleets of self-driving vehicles for mass transit.

“Autonomous vehicle technology will disrupt and redefine the future of urban mobility and transportation,” said Chris Thomas, a founder of Fontinalis Partners who will join the nuTonomy board. “We feel strongly that nuTonomy?s robust approach to decision-making will position them to be a leading player in this disruption.”

5D Robotics raises money for GPS alternative

In addition, 5D Robotics Inc. has raised $5.5 million in seed funding from private investors. The Carlsbad, Calif.-based company was founded in 2009 and has patented a technology for using ultrawideband (UWB) tags to provide accurate relative positioning.

5D Robotics’ peer-to-peer navigation system is an alternative to the Global Positioning System, which doesn’t work indoors, and lasers, which don’t work in dust, rain, or other conditions.

It has been tested on more than 30 robots and vehicles in military applications such as mine removal.

According to the company, “5D solves position and navigation down to the centimeter level, allowing vehicles to park side by side, indoors, outdoors, and in the snow, fog, or rain.”

“The same modules we are developing for those vehicles are also now going onto automotive, drones, and low-speed electric vehicles,” said 5D Robotics co-founder and CEO David Bruemmer.

The technology has been applied to robots for construction, mining, and logistics, and 5D Robotics hopes to apply it to the infrastructure of “smart cities” to aid with efficient transportation, including “mobility on demand.”

For instance, 5D Robotics has proposed putting sensors in light poles to enable unmanned vehicles to operate in a neighborhood in San Diego.

5D Robotics plans to use its new funding to develop commercial products and software for vertical markets including heavy industrial equipment, mapping, and inspection.

Ford Motor Co. and other companies pursuing self-driving vehicles are developing similar vision and mapping systems that rely on preset landmarks rather than things such as lane markers, which can be obscured by snow.

Savari develops ‘V2X’ safety systems

Savari Inc. raised $8 million in Series A funding from investors including Delta Electronics Capital Corp. and SAIC Capital. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company plans to expand into Europe and Asia with its “V2X” (vehicle-to-everything) communications technology.

In accordance with U.S. federal safety goals, Savari has developed wireless sensors and software for driver-assistive systems, including in non-line-of-sight environments. The company is participating in the agency’s largest V2X study and is conducting field trials with industry groups worldwide.

President Obama recently proposed a $4 billion program to develop safe autonomous vehicles, and the U.S. Department of Transportation is offering $40 million for its Smart City Challenge.

“We’ve been deploying and thoroughly validating vehicle-to-everything communication technology for eight years; we believe no other company can match our experience,” said Ravi Puvvala, CEO of Savari.

The company’s technologies are intended to complement existing sensor and driver-assist technologies and provide “360-degree situational awareness while exchanging real-time information between connected cars.”

“Savari is a pioneer in establishing V2X standards and products,” said Anish Patel, senior investment director of SAIC Capital. “Since early trials with the U.S. Department of Transportation to collaborating with major automotive OEMs, Savari has been at the forefront deploying intelligent vehicle safety applications enabled by DSRC [Dedicated Short-Range Communications] technology.”

Savari, which has offices in Detroit, Seoul, and Bangalore, plans to launch its aftermarket product in summer 2016.