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27 November, 2019 - 16:52 By Kate Sweeney

Silicon Valley VC helps Wayve raise $20m for London autonomous vehicle trials

A company born in Cambridge and boasting Oxbridge computer aces in its team has clinched a $20 million Series A funding round to facilitate autonomous vehicle trials in London.

The investment in machine learning business Wayve was led by Eclipse Ventures, with participation from Balderton Capital and existing investors Compound, Fly Ventures and firstminute capital – as well as several undisclosed pre-eminent leaders in machine learning and robotics.

The round is being trumpeted as the first time a European self-driving car company has attracted premier Silicon Valley venture capital funding to lead a Series A investment.

Wayve was founded in 2017 by alumni Dr Alex Kendall, who completed his PhD in Professor Roberto Cipolla’s Machine Intelligence group, and Dr Amar Shah, who secured his PhD in Professor Zoubin Ghahramani’s Machine Learning group.

The duo set up Wayve while studying for their PhD’s at the Department of Engineering. 

Dr Kendall said: “I don’t know of any other university in the world that has such a culture of research excellence that also supports entrepreneurial commercialisation.

“It’s a unique set-up that I could start a business, raise venture capital and still retain a research position and do open-ended research at Cambridge. A lot of other universities wouldn’t support this, but here you can – and it’s resulted in some pretty amazing companies.”

Wayve believes that the complexity of self-driving cars will be solved by better artificial intelligence ‘brains’ not by more physical sensors and hand-coded rules. 

In Spring 2019, Wayve publicised an unprecedented achievement, demonstrating a self-driving car navigating on roads it had never previously driven before. This had been accomplished by using only cameras, a 2D map and a unique end-to-end, deep learning driving brain.

A good human driver can quickly adapt to navigating a new jurisdiction but existing autonomous solutions lack the requisite ability to detect and respond appropriately to potential hazards. By contrast, Wayve is committed to building a general and scalable driving brain applicable to any driving environment.

End-to-end machine learning based systems have dominated traditional rule-based approaches in natural language processing, image recognition, speech synthesis and more. But Dr Shah observes: “As computational power and data continue to grow, learning-based approaches will become more inevitable, especially for mobile robotics. The human brain has evolved over millions of years; computers have only had a few decades, but are catching up quickly.”

Wayve’s team includes leading experts in robotics, computer vision and artificial intelligence from both Cambridge and Oxford universities with experience from some of the world’s best tech innovators.

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