The nine hottest autonomous vehicle start-ups in the UK
Robotic and machine learning talent from top universities is powering the first wave of self-driving start-ups in the UK.
Founded by Cambridge University graduates Amar Shah and Alex Kendall, Wayve is a team of experts in robotics, computer vision and artificial intelligence. Wayve believes sophisticated machine learning trumps maps in the race to self-driving cars that are safer than their human-driver counterparts. ‘Our learning-based system will be safer in unfamiliar situations than a rule-based system which would behave unpredictably in a situation it has not seen before,’ says CEO Amar Shah. The company is funded by VC backers Fly Ventures, Compound and Firstminute Capital, and Uber chief scientist Professor Zoubin Ghahramani is an investor.
Founded by former Arm Holdings director and serial entrepreneur Stan Boland, Cambridge-based Five AI is the most ambitious of UK start-ups, with a plan to launch a shared taxi service in London in the coming years. Its bright blue Ford Mondeos – which boast 14 cameras, six radars, three roof-mounted LIDARs and a number of ultrasound sensors – are being tested in the south London suburbs of Bromley and Croydon, which the company regards as a more challenging testbed than the gridded cities of the USA. First-round funding raised $35 million, and a second round is rumoured.
Oxbotica, a spin-off from Oxford University’s Engineering Science Mobile Robotics Group, writes software for self-driving cars. It’s involved in the public-funded Driven project which will see six autonomous Ford Fusion make the real-world journey from Oxford to London. Other successes include the presences of its technology on the European Space Agency’s Mars rover and a deal with London taxi firm Addison Lee to trial driverless cabs in the capital. Founded in 2014 by Oxford academics Paul Newman and Ingmar Posner, the firm specialises in using computer vision and machine learning to continuously refine its driving algorithms.
Backed by Jaguar Land Rover subsidiary InMotion Ventures, London-based Synaptiv is a data analytics platform focused on generating value from connected car data. This dataset is supplied by an array of sensors embedded in the vehicles which detect acceleration, braking, suspension, fuel, tyres, wipers, headlights and fuel levels. Through the application of data science techniques, Synaptiv transforms car data into actionable insights to helps its clients in the automotive, insurance, retail and road management to cut costs and understand customers better. Additionally, its data could enable new business models and services.
Blue Vision Labs
Augmented technology specialist Blue Vision Labs was acquired by US ride-hailing giant Lyft last October for $72 million and folded into Lyft’s self-driving division Level5. Last year, Blue Vision Labs unveiled AR Cloud, which allows a ride-sharing passenger to connect with their drivers by overlaying the car’s position onto the rider’s smartphone screen in augmented reality. It’s powered by centimetre-accurate 3D maps that cover entire cities, and are built using fleets of vehicles equipped with mobile phones. Early backers of London-based Blue Vision Labs included Google Ventures, Accel, Horizons Ventures and SV Angel
Founded in 2015, Baro Vehicles develops autonomous vehicle platforms for applications such as university campuses, business parks and golf courses. Products include LIDAR units, a chassis for use as a base to manufacture low speed autonomous vehicles and the Baro One, a ‘high-tech golf cart’ with Level 3 autonomy. At the heart of its range is the company’s image learning and recognition system. Baro says its vision is to ‘be a company that manufactures intelligent robots to transport people and goods’. The business is based at the Horiba-Mira Technology Park in Nuneaton, Warwickshire.
Motorists can often predict when a pedestrian staring at their smartphone is about to step into the road. If drivers can learn this skill, then why not computers? That’s the premise of London-based start-up Humanising Autonomy, which has developed an AI algorithm specifically to analyse and predict pedestrian and cyclist behaviour. Its machine learning software – which has built up a large data set from a variety of video sources – can be integrated into level 3 and 4 stacks, no matter what the architecture. Humanising Autonomy – which is working with Daimler, Airbus and Imperial College London – has just raised another £4 million seed funding.
A spin-off from the University of Sheffield, The Floow is named after flow, the state of mind in which we’re fully focused and energised. The company specialises in auto telematics, helping its first major customer (and early investor) Direct Line Group, the insurance company, learn about its drivers’ behaviours and price cover appropriately. Since then the multi-award winning firm has developed its software to allow managers of commercial vehicle fleets to analyse driver performance and get insurance based on actual behaviour. The Floow, which has 100 employees, is part of the MOVE-UK project, which has been testing autonomous cars in London.
Banbury, Oxfordshire-based Arrival makes lightweight electric commercial vehicles out of composite materials. Customers include the Royal Mail, which has had nine vehicles of various sizes on test out of its Mount Pleasant sorting office in London, and UPS, which has 35 custom-designed vehicles currently operating in London and Paris. Arrival is a lead participant in the government-funded Robopilot autonomous vehicle project, as well as a consortium member of the OmniCAV and MultiCAV projects. Founded by former Russian cabinet minister Denis Sverdlov – who also set up the Kinetik fund – Arrival has 170 employees.