Self-driving vehicles have been the most challenging technological innovation of this generation. Today, a large number of cars sold come with driver assistance technology while vehicles with higher levels of autonomy are close to the production and scalability stage. It was expected that quite a sizable number of level 2+ and above autonomous vehicles would be seen on roads by 2021; however, the COVID-19 breakdown, subsequent lockdowns, and associated fall in the automotive and semiconductor industry has seemed to prolong the plans.
Although companies such as Tesla, Waymo, Cruise, TuSimple, and Aurora are already testing their driverless technology across some of the public roads in the U.S., a fully driverless vehicle is yet to pass all the safety tests. China is racing quite closely with the U.S. where giants such as DiDi, AutoX, and Baidu have started level 4 AV operations on public roads; however, it will take a few more years to achieve commercial scaling.
More than $13 billion funding in AV tech was recorded in FY2021
Investment surged by 126% in AV logistics, delivery, and trucking segment in 2021 as compared to last year.
June’21 recorded the highest investment of nearly $3.4 billion
TuSimple, Plus, and Embark announced their IPOs in a merger with special-purpose acquisition companies (SPAC)
Toyota Motor Corporation’s subsidiary Woven Planet Holdings, Inc. has acquired three companies - Lyft Level 5, Carmera, and Renovo in 2021 to empower its AV software and AI segment
It is expected that 2024 is the year when driverless vehicles such as robotaxis and logistics vehicles would be the common way of conveyance, as most of the giants in the AV space have provided roadmaps till 2024 for the launch of their fully tested and validated driverless technology.
Companies are fueling the research and development process with billions of dollars and investors are pouring hefty amounts into AV companies every year. Multi-million-dollar deals are being signed and start-ups are soaring their valuations, few are even getting public listed through mergers with SPACs.
2021 witnessed the speediest movement in the autonomous vehicle technology space. This momentum was pumped with collaborations, joint ventures, acquisitions, IPOs, and start-up funding. Following the similar trend of last year, the cumulative investment in the month of June’21 touched the highest mark of the year, reaching above $3.4 billion. More than 25 partnership and collaboration deals took place this year and more companies are expected to partner in speeding up the launch of AVs.
Robotaxi and Shuttle:
Waymo and Cruise were the top gainers this year, grabbing around $2.5 billion and $2.75 billion funding, respectively. Waymo being the top ranker in a total number of autonomous miles driven, with its second round of investment, the company is further aiming to expand its robotaxi services to more markets. Cruise is continuously raising funds to achieve its target of one million self-driving fleets by 2030. Also, in the extended funding round of $750 million, Cruise has added Walmart as an investor, to focus completely on commercial scaling of robotaxi services. In robotaxi business, this year WeRide successfully completed its series B and Series C rounds with cumulative disclosed investment of $420 million. DeepRoute.ai, a Chinese autonomous driving company raised $300 million in a series B round from lead investor Alibaba to expand its robotaxi test fleet and develop technologies for self-driving trucks. Autonomous shuttle players such as Easymile and Beep have also raised considerable funding this year to enhance self-driving technological capabilities.
Logistics and Delivery:
Post Covid-19 pandemic, companies have been majorly focusing on zero-contact delivery of goods and logistic services through autonomous technology. Gatik, one of the Silicon Valley-based self-driving logistic start-ups has gained strong attention in 2021. In its series B funding round, Gatik raised $85 million from Koch Industries to expand operations, add staff, and build up its truck fleet. In September’21, Goodyear also invested and collaborated with Gatik to enhance safety and efficiency for autonomous middle mile logistics. Nuro, an autonomous delivery vehicle company seized $600 million from Google and Tiger Global Management in a series D round bringing the company’s valuation to $8.6 billion. Also, in October, Ocado has invested nearly $13.6 million in Wayve, a self-driving technology startup to encourage the development of autonomous grocery delivery for complex urban environments. Ottonomy, Inc., developing autonomous indoor and outdoor delivery vehicles raised $100k from the convertible note. Few other companies dealing in autonomous logistics business that received funding in 2021 include Venti Technologies, Fernride, and Haomo Smart Mobility Technology Co., Ltd.
Close to $1.2 billion funding was raised in the autonomous trucking industry as investors are betting strongly on this sector for higher gains. It is quite certain that the trucking industry will be the first to receive driverless permits as they need to operate in less complex driving environments. Also, long haul trucking and logistics services majorly involve fixed delivery routes, highway driving, rare contact with pedestrians and cyclists, and hence require comparatively less complex AI and ML algorithms. This segment of autonomous driving is expected to have more relaxed regulatory policies and hence faster time-to-market.
It is witnessed that the investment in the autonomous trucking industry has surged by more than 90% in 2021 compared to last year. Autonomous trucking companies such as TuSimple, Plus, and Embark became public with the successful launch of IPO. TuSimple raised $1.35 billion in IPO at a nearly $8.5 billion valuation. The company’s stock went up almost 50%. Plus.ai has raised its valuation to $3.3 billion post the merger with SPAC Hennessy Capital Investment Corp., while Embark Trucks merged with special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) Northern Genesis Acquisition Corp. in a deal valued at about $5.2 billion.
AV tech companies have realized the potential in the trucking industry and hence making a quick entry into the segment. DeepRoute.ai primarily dealing in robotaxis is now aiming at developing technology for self-driving trucks with its latest funding round of $300 million. Waymo has also entered the autonomous trucking business and is currently making deliveries for UPS with its Via- Class 8 truck in Texas. Other companies dealing in the autonomous trucking segment that grabbed funding in 2021 includes Einride AB ($110 million in series B), Locomation ($40 million in convertible notes), Inceptio Technology ($270 million in series B), and Kodiak Robotics ($125 million in series B).
AI, ML, and Software Technology:
2021 has been a momentous year for the software and AI companies in the autonomous vehicle segment. The total investment raised in AI, machine learning, and software technology segment is over $2.4 billion. Momenta, a Chinese company building ‘brains’ for autonomous vehicles have raised half-billion in its Series C round led by SAIC Motor, China’s biggest automaker, Toyota, and Bosch. Oxbotica raised ~$60 million in two consecutive series B funding rounds led by BP ventures and Ocado. Robotic Research, an autonomous mobility and robotics solutions developer have raised $228 million in a series A round led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2, Enlightenment Capital, Crescent Cove Advisors, Henry Crown and Company, and Luminar Technologies, Inc. The company plans to use this investment for expanding RR.AI commercial division, focusing on commercial trucks, bus, drayage, and logistics vehicles applications. Scale AI, an artificial intelligence firm has closed a series E round of $325 million, taking its valuation to $7 billion.
Other software and technology companies that have grabbed over $100 million funding this year include UISEE, Ghost Locomotion, Autobrains, Haomo.ai, Freetech, and Applied Intuition, Inc. Investments in autonomous vehicle software and AI have surged significantly in China-based start-ups.
Vision, LiDAR, and Radar Sensing:
The autonomous driving sensing segment raised close to $1 billion in 2021. 4D Radar has been the center attraction for investors in 2021 as OEMs and tier-1s are restructuring AV sensing systems keeping radars as the prime focus. Arbe Robotics has raised $100 million in post-IPO equity in Oct’21. Oculii, a radar software developer has secured $55 million in a Series B round led by Catapult Ventures and Conductive Ventures. Spartan Radar, the U.S.-based start-up raised a total of $25 million in consecutive two rounds to accelerate and enhance autonomous vehicle radar technology. Other radar players that grabbed investment in 2021 include WaveSense, Kneron, Xandar Kardian, Zadar Labs, and Zendar.
Since the past few years, LiDAR sensing has been the target segment of investors. In 2021, comparatively lower investment has been recorded in LiDAR segment as the sensor is taking quite a long time for scalable production and commercialization. However, consistent players in the segment have successfully progressed and raised considerable funding. For instance, Hesai Photonics technology has received funding of $300 million in a Series D round led by Baidu, Bosch, Meituan, and other developers of autonomous vehicles and robots. Innovusion, developing image-grade LiDAR technology for AVs has successfully raised $66 million USD in Series B Plus financing. Others such as SiLC Technologies and Scantinel Photonics also raised $17 million and $9.1 million respectively in the autonomous vehicle LiDAR sensing segment.
China-based company MINIEYE, developing perception and decision-making solutions for self-driving vehicles had a target to deliver 500,000 ADAS products by the end of 2021 through undisclosed funding raised in series D1 round. Another Chinese start-up CalmCar, developing vision systems for autonomous vehicles, has raised $150 million in a Series C funding round led by ZF Friedrichshafen AG as the company is aiming to begin its IPO process by 2022.
Autonomous vehicles being a highly volatile market often finds a significant place in the portfolio of venture capitalists and angel investors. Though the industry is moving at a slower pace than expected each year the investment in the self-driving industry is soaring by at least 2X. It seems that investors have huge hopes for higher capital gains from this technology as even the Covid-19 pandemic was unable to restrain the funding in the sector.