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11 May, 2022 - 22:59 By Tony Quested

Union of Bosch and Five creates autonomous driving powerhouse

German tech giant Bosch has agreed to acquire Cambridge-headquartered Five to accelerate the vision of fully automated driving and create Europe’s leader in the field.

Five CEO Stan Boland, a past master at maximising the full value of technology businesses, has lauded the technological and cultural fits of the alliance. Bosch wasn’t the only choice to take Five forward but was the most compelling, Boland said.

While the young company – set up in 2015 but established as an identifiable business from 2016 – has raised $78 million to date, Boland said it was clear early in the piece that the journey to perfection could cost billions over the long haul and Bosch was ideally placed to help Five achieve the ambitions set out at launch.

No figures are being revealed for the acquisition but Boland stressed that this was very much a marriage of minds and ambition, on top of the technology fit.

Five  is to be part of the Bosch Cross-Domain Computing Solutions division, which Boland said he was genuinely thrilled about. He said: “When we began our journey in automated driving (AD) in 2016, we had a vision for a safer, fully autonomous future of transport. Our dream? To build Europe’s leading SAE level 4 AD company.

“We built an exceptional team; we demonstrated a really cool level 4 self-driving system on public roads in London and we used that unique experience to learn. We learnt that it’s simply impossible to build a safe AD system without also building a development and test environment that’s tightly-coupled to it. So we pivoted a lot of our company to the task of building that.

Boland continued: “We also learnt that not only did the auto world have much to teach the tech world, but that the tech world had the means of solving problems the auto world couldn’t solve alone. 

“The important lesson was that the winning model is clearly auto+tech together, under the same roof, solving the same problems. And so to Bosch. It’s so clearly the world’s champion in driving assistance technologies – and those are the very same capabilities needed for many aspects of level 4 AD. 

“Five’s corresponding superpowers live in fields complementary to those, in the same solution space. The challenges in AD turn out to be deep in each component and wide in system and environment contexts.

“But the clincher for both firms was a human one: we found we shared the same burning ambition to build Europe’s global leader in safe level 4 AD. It’s why we not only want to work together but sense it’s our duty and our destiny to do so in the same organisation. Bosch is a charitable trust and highly ethical in terms of its investments.

“Scale matters in AD. With this deal, we now intend to grow together and cover all the bases – with the world’s best team, using the best technology, applied with the highest integrity. I can safely say that it’s a dream fulfilled as we contribute Five’s energy, technology, culture and knowhow to building Europe’s AD champion.”

According to PitchBook data Five was valued at $216 million in its last round – a $41 million investment in March 2020 that coincided with the company’s B2B pivot.

Bosch says it is equally excited about the potential of the tie-up. Dr Markus Heyn, member of the Bosch board of management and chairman of the Mobility Solutions business sector, said: “The development of self-driving cars is regarded as the ultimate discipline for automakers. As one of the world’s biggest mobility providers, Bosch is a driving force behind the progress being made in this discipline.

“Now, it’s strengthening its hand by acquiring Five, Europe’s leading startup in the field of automated driving. At six locations in the United Kingdom, its roughly 140 associates are working on the vision of safe, self-driving vehicles.

“Five gave preference to Bosch over other takeover bidders. The two companies share a common vision of automated driving and of safe automated driving systems. 

“Automated driving is set to make road traffic safer. We want Five to give an extra boost to our work in software development for safe automated driving, and offer our customers European-made technology.”

Since foundation, Five has built a team of experts in cloud software, safety assurance, robotics and machine learning and has placed itself at the forefront of developing state-of-the-art software and artificial intelligence-based solutions for autonomous driving, through SAE Level 4. 

Five now focuses primarily on a cloud-based development and testing platform for the software used in self-driving cars. This offers engineers the programs they need to create automated driving software at pace, and to test it before and during its deployment in trial vehicles. 

The platform is able to analyse real data from a fleet of test vehicles, create advanced testing scenarios, and build a simulation environment that makes it possible to assess and validate system behaviour at hyper-scale.

At Bosch, Five will strengthen the company’s agile project structure for the development of self-driving cars. The two teams’ software engineering environments complement each other very well, and will be merged to form a single solution.

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