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July 19, 2017updated 09 Apr 2021 12:42pm

Automakers invest in autonomous vehicle data gatherer

Autonomous vehicle technology company Nauto said it had raised US$159m of financing led by Softbank and venture capital firm Greylock Partners. BMW iVentures, General Motors Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, the venture unit of Allianz Group, Playground Global and Draper Nexus have previously invested in the firm.

Autonomous vehicle technology company Nauto said it had raised US$159m of financing led by Softbank and venture capital firm Greylock Partners. BMW iVentures, General Motors Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures, the venture unit of Allianz Group, Playground Global and Draper Nexus have previously invested in the firm.

The Palo Alto-based artificial intelligence (AI) platform developer said the funds would be be used for growth and to get its retrofit safety and networking system into more vehicles as well as expansion of its data platform in autonomous vehicle R&D at multiple automakers.

As more units go into use and vehicles accumulate more miles, "the Nauto network becomes more precise, gains an even greater understanding of human driving behaviour and provides more valuable data and safety features," the company claimed in a statement. "The resulting insights help improve fleet safety and operations, as well as save lives and reduce liability and expenses. Over time [our] data platform will inform the transition to and co-existence of human-driven and autonomous vehicles."

"In the future, driving will be a networked activity, with tighter feedback loops and a much greater ability to aggregate, analyse, and redistribute knowledge. By building a network of vehicles and drivers, Nauto is accelerating the transition from a human-driver dominant world to a safer, more efficient autonomous-driving era," said board member Reid Hoffman.

Nauto is an automotive data platform, powered by artificial intelligence and an after-market dual-camera device, which can add safety and networking features to any vehicle or fleet.

A Reuters report noted Nauto was unusual in attracting money from top automakers, and also in its focus on software and data, which cost less to develop than hardware or entire vehicles.

"Any (vehicle) manufacturer is better than any startup at building cars," Stefan Heck, founder and chief executive officer, told the news agency. "Our aim is to provide the data, intelligence and a cloud platform" to automakers that plan to begin putting self-driving cars on the road from 2020.

The amount of GM's investment in Nauto was not disclosed. The Detroit automaker bought Silicon Valley startup Cruise Automation in early 2016 for more than $500 million.

Heck declined to specify the company's post-funding valuation. He did say it was shy of $1 billion, "unicorn" status in Silicon Valley shorthand.

Reuters said Nauto was retrofitting windscreens of commercial trucks from North America to Europe and Japan with dual cameras: one aimed at the road and the other at the driver. The goal was to gather data on driver distraction and on the environment around vehicles and speed development of self-driving technology.

Using such techniques as computer vision and deep learning, a form of artificial intelligence, the company is analyzing video feeds and data from the retrofit devices to improve driver performance and safety, the news agency said. Learning more about how humans drivers behave is critical, Heck told Reuters, because self-driving cars must share the roads with those vehicles for at least the next 20 to 30 years.

"During that transition period, we need autonomous vehicles that are not just smart, but are able to collaborate with humans," Heck said.

Nauto was working with investors and other companies "to learn from human drivers, the best and the worst, to inform" the development of self-driving vehicles.

Heck declined to tell Reuters how many vehicles were using Nauto's cameras and software, but said the company expects to accumulate more than 1bn miles of real-world data within the next year.

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