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4 March, 2020 - 11:00 By Tony Quested

Five raises $41m as Chinese and Russian backers climb aboard

Five – the autonomous vehicle technology pioneer with its largest UK operation in Cambridge – has raised $41 million Series B funding. 

Five – initially known as FiveAI – aims to use the cash to productise offline cloud-based development platforms alongside components of its online vehicle software. 

Together, these will allow partners to bring performance and engineering certainty to their self-driving programs and help solve the challenges that must be addressed ahead of the mass commercialisation of self-driving technology. 

The Series B investment brings Five’s total raised to $77m, making it one of Europe’s best-funded self-driving startups. The round attracted global interest, with participation from UK, European, Chinese and Russian investors.

The investment follows UK government grant support for the development of a full self-driving system, which Five demonstrated on public roads in London.

Five’s science and engineering knowledge is being applied to complex challenges the industry must solve before the widespread commercialisation of self-driving technology.

New investors are Trustbridge Partners, Direct Line Group and Sistema VC. Existing investors Lakestar, Amadeus Capital Partners in Cambridge, Kindred Capital and Notion Capital also participated in the round.

The next decade is expected to bring the widespread roll-out and commercialisation of advanced self-driving technology. However, before the industry can get there, it must overcome some formidable challenges. 

These include how to integrate many new and existing components into a self-driving system that is functional enough to operate safely in the real world and how to build essential safety assurance evidence that is both measurable and sufficient. 

These challenges are exacerbated by unavoidable hardware and system software limitations, by the high dimensionality and changing nature of the real world, by the need to apply deep learning models to key aspects of self-driving systems and by the need to discover, label and curate vast quantities of data to develop, train, maintain and verify these systems.

The nature of these challenges makes self-driving simultaneously the most strenuous and the most exciting science and engineering endeavour of our era, requiring the world’s leading mathematicians, scientists and engineers to tackle them.  

Five CEO Stan Boland

Five (Five AI Inc.) began developing its approach to self-driving technology in 2016 and a year later secured the lead role in StreetWise, a UK government-aided development program in which Direct Line Group also contributed. 

Over three years, Five’s expert team developed a high functionality self-driving system for mixed-use urban public roads. In 2019, that technology was demonstrated over hundreds of rides driving autonomously over a 19km route in London, one of the world’s most complex testing environments.

Five’s work in building a sophisticated self-driving system has led to a profound understanding of how to develop and assure safety-critical software that encounters and interacts with complex and changing objects, behaviours and environments in the real world. 

In consequence, Five’s team began building cloud-based platforms alongside its software to address the most complex challenges it encountered in the process of development and assurance.

This latest round of funding will be used to productise these vital offline cloud-based development platforms alongside high-value components of Five’s online vehicle software. 

Together, these will provide global partners with the means to bring needed performance and engineering certainty to their self-driving programs and deliver the assurance evidence required for their safety cases, both of which will be essential for meaningful public road deployments and the widespread commercialisation of self-driving technology.  

Stan Boland, Five’s CEO, said: “This funding round is validation of the work we are doing and the role our technology is set to contribute to developing and assuring self-driving. 

“We’re excited to be able to accelerate development and engagements with partners. Our shareholders have large and complementary contributions to make to that progress, and we are delighted to welcome Trustbridge, Direct Line Group and Sistema VC to our cap table. We look forward to their support on the next stage of our journey.”

Five’s founding team has collectively built businesses that have sold for more than $1bn, and the company has established close ties with some of the world’s leading academic institutions. 

With origins in the communications chip industry, Five’s founders are experts in the use of cutting-edge tools and techniques to verify deep technology, including finding and addressing residual bugs in high-complexity silicon and software. The team is now applying this knowledge to the challenges of self-driving, which it is well on track to solving.

Serial entrepreneur Stan Boland is a legendary figure in the evolution of Cambridge technology hunted by global giants. He was co-founder and CEO at Element 14 Inc. (acquired by Broadcom Corporation for $640m in 2000), co-founder and CEO at Icera Inc. (acquired by NVIDIA Corporation for $430m in 2011) and CEO at Neul Ltd (acquired by Huawei for an undisclosed sum in 2014). 

Co-founders at Five led groundbreaking algorithm development, software development, verification, processor design and product management at those firms.
Five’s scientific advisers include Professor Philip Torr (University of Oxford), Professor Andrew Blake (formerly director of the Alan Turing Institute and Microsoft Research), Professor Alessio Lomuscio (Imperial College) and Professor John McDermid (University of York). Subramanian Ramamoorthy (University of Edinburgh) acts as VP of the company’s Robotics and Vehicle Software group.

Of Five’s team, 40 per cent hold PhDs in computer science, mathematics, engineering and physical sciences.

Five currently has eight fully equipped self-driving vehicles, each provisioned with tens of sensors and processing power at supercomputer levels. Its largest facility is in Cambridge UK.

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