This article was published on May 7, 2024

UK’s Wayve raises $1B in Europe’s largest ever AI funding round

SoftBank led the investment alongside Nvidia and Microsoft


UK’s Wayve raises $1B in Europe’s largest ever AI funding round

Wayve, a London-based startup working on AI systems for autonomous vehicles, has raised $1bn. The colossal funding round marks the largest single investment in a European AI startup.

Japanese conglomerate SoftBank led the funding round alongside tech giants Nvidia and Microsoft. Wayve did not disclose its valuation following the investment. 

Founded in Cambridge in 2017, Wayve is developing so-called embodied AI systems for self-driving cars. Unlike pure software AI like ChatGPT, embodied AI serves as the brain for physical objects like vehicles. It lets them see, think, and drive on their own. The technology also works for robots, or any other moving object for that matter.  

“Embodied AI will address the long-standing challenges the industry has faced in scaling this technology to everyone, everywhere,” said Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve. 

Alex-Kendall_Headshot_CEO-Co-founder-wayve
Before founding Wayve in 2017, Alex Kendall was a Cambridge University doctorate student focused on computer vision and robotics. Credit: Wayve

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Wayve’s approach to autonomous driving is similar to Tesla’s. But unlike Elon Musk’s firm, Wayve will sell its technology directly to carmakers. This means you won’t have to buy a Tesla to access top spec self-driving tech.  

Cars that learn

Wayve has been training its AI systems on UK roads since 2018. The company fits a regular car with a range of cameras and sensors that interpret the surrounding environment. The more data a car collects, the more Wayve’s AI models learn about driving and responding to hazards. 

In the future, the company plans to enable vehicles to do more than just drive for you. They want to provide extras like language-responsive interfaces, personalised driving styles, and co-piloting.

“Vehicles can now interpret their surroundings like humans, enabling enhanced decision-making that promises higher safety standards,” said Kentaro Matsui, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers. As part of the investment, SoftBank has joined Wayve’s board of directors. 

“The potential of this type of technology is transformative; it could eliminate 99% of traffic accidents,” said Matsui. 

Wayve-Self-Driving-vehicle-funding
Wayve’s AI systems enable a car to see, think, and drive on its own. Credit: Wayve

Despite significant progress, self-driving has always seemed to be one of those five-years-away technologies.   

Getting autonomous vehicles to drive safely is notoriously complicated and faces stiff regulation. A number of high profile accidents, and the withdrawal of big players such as Apple hasn’t helped matters, and a slump in funding for autonomous vehicle ventures reflects the challenging situation.

A win for European tech

Given the circumstances, this makes Wayve’s huge funding round even more impressive — especially for a European startup.    

“Wayve is a singularly important company for Europe,” Suranga Chandratillake, partner at Balderton and an early investor in Wayve, told TNW via email. 

“Embodied AI will be the next big frontier of artificial intelligence — bringing machine intelligence to the physical world around us and not just the computer screen that large language models are confined to.”  

Nvidia’s graphic processing units (GPUs) will provide the computing power for Wayve’s self-driving tech. Microsoft, an existing investor, said it would continue to support the company via its “expertise” in supercomputing and AI.

Kendall, Wayve’s CEO, said the investment would allow the startup to turn its prototypes and research into a marketable product. He said the company was in talks with several large automotive partners to make its tech available in cars for purchase to regular consumers. However, Wayve has yet to name names so we’re still in the dark on that front.

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