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Wayve autonomous driving start-up backed by Microsoft, Virgin


Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve.


LONDON — U.K. autonomous driving start-up Wayve has been backed by a host of big name investors including MicrosoftVirgin, Baillie Gifford and Virgin in a $200 Million funding round which brings the total investment to the company to $258M.

Wayve has not disclosed its current valuation, but it is likely that it will be above $1 billion. This would make Wayve a “unicorn”, however.

Wayve, a group of roboticists and machine-learning specialists was established in London in 2017. They aim to develop an autonomous driving platform that uses AI.

CNBC spoke with Alex Kendall from New Zealand, who founded Wayve. He said that the firm’s strategy is quite contrarian compared to other options.

Technology companies tried telling cars how to drive in the past using hand-coded rules. Kendall explained that this is because they use a complex hardware stack that sometimes includes eight LiDAR sensors (laser imaging detect and range), six radar and thirty cameras.

Although this approach works in Phoenix, Arizona (where it’s nearly always sunny) and where grid-like structures are common, Kendall, Wayve’s CEO, says that it can’t be scaled in other areas of the globe.

Wayve has dubbed its approach AV 2.0. It teaches cars how to drive themselves using machine-learning software, a few cameras, and machine-learning software.

Kendall explained that cars can learn how to program more difficult tasks than human beings can. Kendall also said that the car is able “to see the world” through the company’s computer vision platform. It can take its own decisions and drive in complex places like central London.

Wayve thinks deep learning is an important part of autonomous driving. Deep learning refers to AI which attempts to imitate the activities of the layers of neurons in your brain and learn to recognize patterns in complex data.

FiveAI is a competitor firm that believes autonomous vehicles require more than just cameras for learning how to drive.

CNBC’s Stan Boland, CEO of FiveAI said that “we think multiple sensing modes are necessary” and acknowledged that it creates “fusion challenges.”

He said, “This is a different question to determine whether hand-made or deeper learning is the best way to perceive.” Both have their roles, which makes it an extremely complex challenge.

Wayve chose to license its autonomous driving technology for commercial fleets rather than trying to make its own fully self-driving cars, which have yet to be made available to the general public.

Kendall stated that “I struggle to imagine a world in which consumer autonomy can work,” adding that fully autonomous vehicles are too complex for people to manage.

Plans for expansion

Wayve seeks to recruit top AI scientists to help it build its platform. These are the highest-paid people in the world, and some experts in this field make over $1 million per year. Kendall explained that quality is more important than quantity. Our biggest investment is people.

Wayve currently employs 120 employees in offices located in London and Mountain View (California). The company has hired some notable people, including Chris Burgess, an ex-DeepMind scientist and Dan McCloskey, an ex-Waymo principal engineer, and Joe Polin a former Tesla Software Engineering Engineer.

The series B funding round — led by Palo Alto venture capital firm Eclipse alongside the likes of Balderton Capital and Meta’s Chief AI Scientist Yann LeCun — will be used to pay for more talent, data and computing power, which it needs to train its algorithms. Wayve will use Microsoft Azure’s cloud computing platform for driving training.

Kendall explained that “This raise signals a shift of recognition from the marketplace that we have now validated many core beliefs that were held by us,” Kendall.

It announced last year commercial partnerships OcadoDPD and Asda have van fleets throughout the U.K. Kendall explained that Wayve already has data collection devices in their human-driven fleets, but they are planning to install Wayve’s autonomous driving system on some of them this year.

He said that if you are a London resident, your groceries will be delivered to you by an Asda or Ocado van using our AV 2.0 autonomous driver technology.