Major Automakers Invest Nearly $160M In New Self-Driving Startup

It’s the right time to have a startup in the self-driving industry. Former engineers on the Tesla Autopilot program have unveiled lvl5, a system that will be using high-precision maps for all vehicles. On the same day of that announcement, a different startup, Nauto, gains major support from multiple big-name car manufacturers.

BMW, General Motors, and Toyota and their “Venture” groups have already invested in Nauto. The startup has now raised $159 million. Financing was spearheaded by SoftBank and Greylock Partners and also includes Allianz, an insurance company. In the announcement, company CEO Stefan Heck stated that the investments will allow them to collect more data to prepare for the switch to autonomous driving.

"In pursuit of the profoundly transformational impact autonomous vehicle technology can have on business and society, we'll now more rapidly be able to gather the billions more miles of real driving experience and data required to get a precise understanding of how the best drivers behave behind the wheel."

Nauto is slightly different from other startups, focusing more on level 3 and 4 autonomous driving. At this point, cars will mostly be self-driving but need human input at various points. This could be when the GPS system has interference, can’t decipher where the vehicle is located, or there is a dangerous situation that’s approaching. Nauto’s system has a two-way camera that focuses both on the road and the person driving the vehicle.

Why is there a need to look inside the vehicle? It’s all part of the vehicle’s learning process. As research has shown at the University of Michigan’s Mcity, self-driving cars should be able to communicate with each other in addition to relying on radar and cameras. Gauging the driver in the vehicle would be another way to learn and see when the driver is paying attention. Should they be distracted, the system would be more alert for any potential dangers.

Nauto launched back in 2015 and had a limited run on public transportation. It was able to record information from the driver and what they were viewing simultaneously. A big advantage to this was being able to study reactions from the driver in many different situations, such as avoiding hazards, getting stuck in traffic jams, and more. The device essentially upgrades older cars with helpful sensors to avoid accidents.

HD mapping is a significant factor in the self-driving industry. Similar to Nauto, lvl5 launched an app called Payver, which allows drivers to mount their phone on the dashboard and record their trips. The app only records video and will pay up to five cents per mile driven. According to Electrek, “90 percent of all US highways using this crowdsourced strategy” have been mapped in three months.

Fully autonomous driving is still a ways off, but startups like Nauto and lvl5 are paving the way. Top car manufacturers are seeing that and it will likely only boost that technology with their investments.

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