Autonomous and Self-Driving Vehicle News: Waabi, Perrone Robotics, Waymo, J.B. Hunt, NVIDIA, DeepMap, Autobrains & Gideon Brothers

In autonomous and self-driving vehicle news are Waabi, Perrone Robotics, Waymo, J.B. Hunt, NVIDIA, DeepMap, Autbrains and Gideon Brothers.

Gideon Brothers Raises $31M

Gideon Brothers, a robotics and AI solutions company, announced it has raised a $31 million Series A investment to accelerate the development and commercialization of its AI & 3D vision-based autonomous mobile robots (AMRs).

The company will also expand its Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Success operations across key markets of the European Union and United States by opening offices in Munich, Germany and Boston, Massachusetts, respectively.

Waabi Formed With Raquel Urtasun at Helm

Waabi, founded by AI pioneer and visionary Raquel Urtasun, today launched out of stealth to build the next generation of self-driving technology. Waabi’s innovative approach unleashes the power of AI to “drive” safely in the real world, bringing the promise of self-driving closer to commercialization than ever before.

Waabi also announced today a $83.5 million (USD) Series A financing with backing from best-in-class investors across the technology, logistics and the Canadian innovation ecosystem. The round, which is among the largest Series A rounds ever raised in Canada, was led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, Radical Ventures, 8VC, OMERS Ventures, BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Venture Fund (WIT), Aurora Innovation Inc., AI luminaries Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.

“Self-driving is one of the most exciting and important technologies of our generation. Once solved at scale, it will change the world as we know it,” said Founder and CEO Raquel Urtasun. “Waabi is the culmination of my life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society and I’m honoured to be joined by a team of extraordinary scientists, engineers and technologists who are equally committed to executing on this bold vision.”

Since the first DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004, the self-driving industry has made meaningful progress but commercial deployment is still limited to very simple and small operational domains. The traditional approach to engineering self-driving vehicles results in a software stack that does not take full advantage of the power of AI, and that requires complex and time-consuming manual tuning. This makes scaling costly and technically challenging, especially when it comes to solving for less frequent and more unpredictable driving scenarios.

Building off the lessons of the last two decades, Waabi is tackling self-driving in a new way. The company’s breakthrough, AI-first approach, developed by a team of world leading technologists, leverages deep learning, probabilistic inference and complex optimization to create software that is end-to-end trainable, interpretable and capable of very complex reasoning. This, together with a revolutionary closed loop simulator that has an unprecedented level of fidelity, enables testing at scale of both common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases. This approach significantly reduces the need to drive testing miles in the real world and results in a safer, more affordable, solution.

“Waabi brings something radically new to the self-driving space,” said Sven Strohband, Managing Director at Khosla Ventures. “With a dream team that has been at the forefront of innovation in the industry and a differentiated, AI-first approach, Waabi is well positioned to lead the next generation of self-driving technology and we’re thrilled to support them in that journey.”

“Raquel is truly one-of-a-kind — a tenacious and inspiring leader who empowers those around her to excel,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber. “I can’t wait to see everything she accomplishes for the self-driving industry.”

“We believe that diversity powers innovation, and are committed to supporting women-led technology companies that have world-changing potential,” said Michelle Scarborough, Managing Partner, Strategic Investments and Women in Tech Venture Fund, at BDC Capital. “Raquel Urtasun is a pioneer in the self-driving space, who will use her unrivaled qualifications, unparalleled experience and deep knowledge to build the future. We’re so proud to champion her team and partner with them as they build Waabi into a global leader.”

In recent years, Toronto’s tech industry has seen rapid expansion. In 2020, the city was ranked #4 out of 50 markets in North America for tech talent and opportunity with a tech talent labor pool of 250,000, according to CBRE’s 2020 Scoring Tech Talent survey. This growing market is bolstered by a strong network of world class universities like the University of Toronto, an institution renowned for its AI acumen.

The Waabi team, based out of Toronto and California and led by Urtasun, who is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI, is considered to be at the forefront of innovation in the self-driving industry, globally. The team will initially focus on deploying Waabi’s software in logistics, specifically long-haul trucking, an industry where self-driving technology stands to make the biggest and swiftest impact due to a chronic driver shortage and pervasive safety issues.

As the company grows, Toronto will remain a critical hub for developing and testing software as well as scaling its team.

Perrone Robotics Completes Road Demos

Perrone Robotics, Inc., a leading provider of fully autonomous vehicle (AV) technology and turnkey vehicle solutions for the mobility of people and things, successfully completed a series of public road demonstrations in the city of Westminster, Md., as part of an event hosted by the Mid-Atlantic Gigabit Innovation Collaboratory (MAGIC) Autonomous Corridor Project. Following the success achieved in Maryland, a week later the company conducted back-to-back public road tests for customers with a GreenPower AV Star zero-emission transit shuttle, and a Low Speed Vehicle (LSV) neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV), both integrated with Perrone Autonomy (these vehicles are slated for customer deployment later this summer for use in municipal and university transit applications).

Westminster, Md. Demonstration

For the MAGIC Autonomous Corridor Project event, the on-road demonstrations were conducted with GreenPower Motor Company’s AV Star – the world’s first and only fully autonomous, all-electric, ADA compliant, FMVSS certified and Buy American shuttle integrated with Perrone Robotics’ autonomous vehicle retrofit kit, TONY.  Perrone Robotics developed the complex operational design domain (ODD) route with the approval of the Maryland Department of Transportation, the City of Westminster Police Department, county government officials and various other public stakeholders. The complex ODD route required the AV shuttle to successfully navigate a designated neighborhood, left and right turns, around a city park, a 4-way stop and through a historic city neighborhood.

“Perrone was able to deploy its AVs over a two-day period across Westminster, Md., in an impressive proof of concept demonstration,” said Graham Dodge, executive director at MAGIC. “The vehicles performed flawlessly on our public roads and represent a promising milestone for autonomous transportation.”

Charlottesville, Va. Albemarle County Regional Demonstration

In addition to the ODD demonstration in Maryland, Perrone Robotics also completed a series of demonstrations in the Charlottesville, Va. area, that included multiple roundabouts, a stop-off at a post office, busy town intersections and county roads.

Perrone’s Autonomy provides a scalable solution built around a patented full-stack platform, MAX®, the TONY® (short for “TO Navigate You”) retrofit kit and a safety certifiable framework, Perrone’s Safety Watchdog. The result is an AV retrofit kit that integrates seamlessly into any vehicle for any job applications for use in the autonomous transit of people and goods in geo-fenced and localized operations. Customers are able to accelerate the global deployment of autonomous vehicle fleet solutions across their gas-powered, diesel and electric passenger and cargo shuttles.

Perrone Robotics received national recognition several years ago for technically reaching Level 5 autonomy in its 2019 public road demonstrations in Albemarle County, Virginia. The company operated for several months throughout the summer and fall on public roads with zero driver interventions. .

Today the company continues to build on that success with over 30 vehicle types outfitted, 40,000 autonomous miles driven, additional patents and AV applications. Perrone has additional AV transit, cargo and delivery shuttles under development and will be ready for use in public fleets by late summer 2021.

“We have been operating in a driverless fashion with our autonomy since 2005, including the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge,” stated Paul Perrone, founder and CEO of Perrone Robotics. “It’s great to see our pioneering research take hold as a reliable commercial solution that’s deployable now.”

Autono-MaaS

Performance milestones like these and continued collaboration with automated mobility service providers are crucial to developing the emerging Autono-MaaS (autonomous-mobility as a service) marketplace. Through real-world demonstrations with Low Speed Vehicles (LSVs), and large shuttles, cargo and delivery vehicles integrated with Perrone Robotics, the company continues to prove that reliable AV technology can help provide innovative mobility and access options for transit and transportation solutions providers.

Waymo Works with JB Hunt Trucks

Getting goods where they need to go safely and easily is at the heart of Waymo Via’s mission. They have been carrying freight for customers since 2018, when it completed its first commercial pilot with Google’s Data Centers, and have continued to haul goods on behalf of other Fortune 500 companies across the southwest U.S.

Waymo Driver for trucking, is now working with J.B. Hunt, one of the largest, most reputable, and most innovative transportation logistics companies in the U.S., to autonomously transport loads in Texas for one of their leading customers.

They will be using Class 8 trucks operated by the Waymo Driver on one of the most highly utilized freight corridors in the country, I-45, hauling goods between facilities in Houston and Fort Worth.

As a leading for-hire truckload carrier with operations across the U.S., J.B. Hunt is an ideal collaborator to explore how the Waymo Driver can be integrated across fleets and enhance safety and efficiency. Carrying freight is just one aspect of the collaboration.

Waymo also worked closely with J.B. Hunt for some time now on operational and market studies and will continue to do so as they roll out autonomous driving technology. They explored topics such as best practices for regular maintenance, what future facility layouts will look like, and which lanes are best suited for autonomous driving technology, to help ensure long-term preparedness on both sides.

These trial runs offer another way to achieve these learnings and will help us define how we can continue working together long-term to advance the trucking industry through the deployment of autonomous driving technology.

NVIDIA Acquires DeepMap

NVIDIA has agreed to acquire DeepMap, a startup dedicated to building high-definition maps for autonomous vehicles to navigate the world safely.

“The acquisition is an endorsement of DeepMap’s unique vision, technology and people,” said Ali Kani, vice president and general manager of Automotive at NVIDIA. “DeepMap is expected to extend our mapping products, help us scale worldwide map operations and expand our full self-driving expertise.” 

“NVIDIA is an amazing, world-changing company that shares our vision to accelerate safe autonomy,” said James Wu, co-founder and CEO of DeepMap. “Joining forces with NVIDIA will allow our technology to scale more quickly and benefit more people sooner. We look forward to continuing our journey as part of the NVIDIA team.”

Maps that are accurate to within a few meters are good enough when providing turn-by-turn directions for humans. AVs, however, require much greater precision. They must operate with centimeter-level precision for accurate localization, the ability of an AV to locate itself in the world. 

Proper localization also requires constantly updated maps. These maps must also reflect current road conditions, such as a work zone or a lane closure. These maps need to efficiently scale across AV fleets, with fast processing and minimal data storage. Finally, they must be able to function worldwide.

DeepMap was founded five years ago by James Wu and Mark Wheeler, veterans of Google, Apple and Baidu, among other companies. The U.S.-based company has developed a high-definition mapping solution that meets these requirements and has already been validated by the AV industry with a wide array of potential customers around the world.

AutoBrains Partners with Continental

Israeli artificial intelligence startup, AutoBrains, today announced that its revolutionary unsupervised AI technology is at the center of leading Tier 1 supplier Continental’s growth strategy in the advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) and autonomous vehicle (AV) market.

AutoBrains is the creator of a novel AI for the automotive industry capable of overcoming the hardest challenges where current systems are plagued by barriers and will establish a faster technology trajectory for ADAS and AV systems. Unsupervised AI operates in a fundamentally different way from traditional deep learning systems currently used in ADAS and is based on multi-disciplinary research and development that allows the system to independently learn, process, and interpret relevant data from the car’s surroundings in real time, leading to perception that operates much in the same way as a human brain.

Key to the disruptive technology’s advantages over traditional deep learning is its massively reduced reliance on expensive and often error-prone manually labelled training data sets. The unsupervised AI system successfully interprets and navigates unusual driving scenarios and edge cases where traditional supervised learning systems are least reliable. This increases driving safety and helps accelerate the adoption of ADAS and vehicles capable of higher levels of autonomy. Reduced reliance on stored data also means AutoBrains’ system requires roughly ten times less computing power than currently available systems and can be produced at lower cost, increasing accessibility of ADAS across market segments at a time when regulations are requiring more driver assistance capabilities for passenger and commercial vehicles.

“We are thrilled to partner with Continental to bring our revolutionary technology to the market,” said Igal Raichelgauz, CEO of AutoBrains. “Unsupervised AI is backed by more than 200 patents, over a decade of research and development, and a nearly 2-year incubation period with Continental, and we are excited to take the next step with Conti as our key partner.”

Frank Petznick, Head of the Driver Assistance Systems Business Unit at Continental added, “We are excited to be partnering with AutoBrains to bring to market its advanced and proven AI technology that we believe will disrupt the ADAS and AV marketplace. Historically, AV and ADAS technologies have been limited by their dependence on supervised learning that uses massive labelled training data sets and requires enormous compute power. AutoBrains’ AI breaks through those barriers with a different approach that processes relevant signals from the car’s environment in much the same way that human drivers do. This technology boosts performance while saving compute power and energy. With AutoBrains we intend to push rapidly ahead toward a safer and increasingly autonomous driving experience.”

AutoBrains emerged out of AI tech company, Cortica, after identifying the potential of the unsupervised learning technology to vastly improve AI for automotive. Following a period with Continental’s Business Unit ADAS and co-pace “The Startup Program of Continental”, in 2019, AutoBrains was formally spun off to focus exclusively on building unsupervised AI for autos.

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