£26.8m haul for autonomous vehicles tech lets FiveAI match US giants
Autonomous vehicle technology pioneer FiveAI has clinched a cash haul of almost £27 million through a mix of Series A equity finance and a grant from the UK government and can now take on their deep pocketed US rivals head-to-head.
With operations in Cambridge and other UK tech hubs, FiveAI was named Business Weekly’s Startup of the Year in March for its potential to develop the complex software brain required for safe driverless vehicles.
Headed up by Midas touch serial entrepreneur Stan Boland, FiveAI’s double-headed windfall represents just the start of an incredible journey for the young company which is educating driverless car manufacturers about what they really need technology-wise to make their vehicles safe.
Boland envisages that FiveAi will need to target £50m all told to get the technology into practical, proven commercial use.
The surging appeal of Cambridge technology to global investors was demonstrated again in the £14m Series A round that made up more than half of the money just raised.
The Government has chipped in £12.8m to back FiveAI’s StreetWise project which will bring a driverless car trial to London in 2019.
Lakestar Capital, which led the round, is headquartered in Zurich and is also on the ground in Berlin and London. Existing investors – Hermann Hauser’s Amadeus Capital Partners, Notion Capital and Kindred – also participated.
The Series A investment is thought to be the largest single venture funding for any European driverless technology startup to date while the combined total of £26.8m puts FiveAI in pole position to take on the driverless tech giants in the US.
Lakestar Capital’s Dharmash Mistry, who will join the FiveAI board on completion of the funding round, said: “FiveAI is a fantastic example where the UK has the talent, ambition and market to build a truly successful technology-led company.
“Dense European cities present totally different technical, behavioural, regulatory and infrastructure challenges to their US and Chinese counterparts for safe urban driverless technologies.
“By assembling its talented team in the UK and seeking to support London’s transport objectives in partnership with the city itself, FiveAI can play a vital role in reducing congestion, emissions, costs, accidents and journey times, boosting the city economy at the same time.”
StreetWise brings several major parties alongside FiveAI to deliver a safe trial driverless car service in London towards the end of 2019. They include the UK’s largest private motor insurer Direct Line Group and McLaren Applied Technologies, McLaren Group’s advanced technology, innovation and design company.
With the University of Oxford and TRL contributing cutting-edge research in the fields of computer vision and safety respectively, StreetWise is a de facto national competitor to several large US technology companies like Google’s Waymo and Uber, who might otherwise seek to lock-up major European cities’ future transport systems.
The opportunity to build a true competitor caught the eye of the Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and through Innovate UK, it provided financial support, conditional upon private funding now met by FiveAI’s Series A.
Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, said: “Low carbon and self-driving vehicles are the future and the UK has a great opportunity to lead this technology revolution.
“The Government is determined to ensure the UK becomes the go-to place for the development of the next generation of vehicles as part of our Industrial Strategy.
“Government investment, through our Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, in the StreetWise Consortium has helped FiveAI to attract significant inward investment for a project that will help build on our expertise and reputation in self-driving technology and support our clean growth, low-carbon agenda.”
Alongside CEO Stan Boland, who has exited his two previous companies for a combined total of over $1 billion, FiveAI boasts a growing team of world-leading scientific talent, including academic heavyweights in the fields of computer vision, perception, motion planning and machine learning.
The new cash will allow FiveAI to develop and demonstrate autonomous SAE level 4 urban technology and a model for its use in a novel form of personal mobility service aimed at individuals currently driving some or all of their daily commute.
FiveAI is targeting 2019 to launch a supervised trial of a pilot fleet of autonomous vehicles on London roads. The trial will show that the technology is now sufficiently mature to be safe in urban environments and sufficiently intelligent to co-exist with human drivers, road users and pedestrians.
The StreetWise project will also demonstrate how this technology can be used to build compelling service offers to recover commuting time, reduce commuting costs, cut accident rates, reduce congestion and lower emissions. Streetwise is partnering with Transport for London (TfL) to ensure its service offering is always aligned to public transportation needs.
Boland said: “London has one of the best public transport systems in the world. Cycling, walking, buses and trains offer a great service for most commuters but some journeys are still being served by personal or individual transport.
“Initially we’ll target these journeys with our shared mobility solution which will also pave the way for potential large-scale autonomous public transport in the future. In the short term, from day one of service launch the StreetWise project will increase public transport usage, reduce congestion and emissions, and make our urban areas more liveable for all.”
Hermann Hauser added: “FiveAI represents the UK’s best opportunity to build a major, responsible player in autonomous vehicles. They have the team, the technology and now, with key support from the UK government, the capital to become our next industry-defining tech company.”
FiveAI was founded in September 2015 with the ambition of leveraging the UK’s Artificial Intelligence and machine learning talent into a huge, important company that can be a force for good in the UK’s transport sector. The company has teams in Cambridge, Bristol, Edinburgh and Oxford.
Recent research into artificial intelligence has made autonomous technology possible. FiveAI’s engineers are building on this research to implement the complex software brain of tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles. This software must be robust in all potential mobility environments and situations; being aware of other road users likely actions before they happen and ensuring that vehicles powered by our software drive safely and just as other road users would expect.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Stan Boland