U.K. autonomous driving start-up Wayve has received $200 million in funding from Microsoft, Virgin, and Baillie Gifford, bringing total investment in the company up to $258 million. The company will now be called a ‘unicorn’ company as its total funding is almost $1 billion.
It was founded in London in 2017. Wayve’s team of machine-learning scientists and roboticists are trying to build an autonomous driving system that’s underpinned by AI.
Alex Kendall, the New Zealander who co-founded Wayve, told CNBC that his firm’s approach is “quite a contrarian” compared to what already exists.
Wayve’s approach is being called AV 2.0. It comprises trying to teach a car how to drive itself with machine-learning software and a few cameras.
“It’s able to learn to do things that are more complex than humans can hand-program,” Kendall said, adding that the car can “see the world for itself” with the company’s computer vision platform. “It can make its own decisions based on what it sees and drive in very complex environments as we have in central London.”
Wayve believes that deep learning is an area of AI that attempts to mimic the activity in layers of neurons in the brain to learn how to recognize complex patterns in data.
Rival firm FiveAI thinks autonomous vehicles need more than just a few cameras to learn how to drive.
“We think many sensing modalities are needed,” FiveAI CEO Stan Boland told CNBC, acknowledging that this creates a “fusion challenge.”
“That’s a different issue to whether hand-made rules or more deep learning is the best approach to perception,” he added. “Of course, we think both have a role to play, making it a very complicated challenge.”
Wayve has chosen to license its autonomous driving technology to commercial fleets instead of trying to manufacture its own full self-driving vehicles, which are yet to go on sale to the public.
“I really struggle to see a world where consumer autonomy can work,” Kendall said, adding that he thinks fully autonomous vehicles would be difficult for consumers to maintain due to their complexity.
Wayve is on the lookout for AI scientists who can help the company to build out its platform. But these are some of the most expensive people to hire in the world right now, with some leaders in the field reportedly earning over $1 million a year. “It’s all about quality, not quantity,” Kendall said. “Our biggest investment is our people.”
Wayve has hired roughly 120 people across offices in London and Mountain View, California so far.
The series B funding round, led by Palo Alto venture capital firm Eclipse, will be used to pay for more talent, data, and computing power, which it needs to train its algorithms.
“This fundraise signals a shift in recognition from the market that we have now validated a number of the core beliefs that we’ve had,” Kendall said.“If you live in London, you’ll be able to get your groceries delivered by one of Ocado’s or Asda’s vans driven by our AV 2.0 autonomous driving technology,” he said, adding that there will be a Wayve safety operator in the vehicle.