UK autonomous driving AI firm Wayve gets $1 billion investment

Wayve has received $1.05 billion in a series C investment round led by SoftBank Group, alongside Nvidia and existing investor Microsoft, as it looks to develop ‘embodied’ AI for autonomous driving.

Andrew Wooden

May 7, 2024

4 Min Read

Embodied AI is supposed to enable self-driving vehicles to learn from and interact with a real-world environment and learn from situations that do not follow strict patterns or rules, such as unexpected actions by drivers or pedestrians.

The intention is to improve the level of automation from ‘eyes on’ assisted driving to ‘eyes off’ fully automated driving – which presumably means the car does all the work, which was always the alluded to ideal of autonomous driving.

Founded in the UK in 2017, Wayve says it was the first to develop and test an end-to-end (e2e) AI autonomous driving system on public roads, and has developed ‘foundation models for autonomy’, which it describes as a ‘GPT for driving’ which can ‘empower any vehicle to perceive its surroundings and safely drive through diverse environments.’

The firm has developed hardware-agnostic AI driving models for ’mapless autonomous driving’ and fleet learning, data infrastructure, evaluation, and simulation platforms which are designed to ‘rapidly enhance their AI models using real-world and simulated data.’ 

Wayve says its research on multimodal and generative models, called LINGO and GAIA, will ultimately allow AI in vehicles to offer advanced features like intuition, language-responsive interfaces, personalized driving styles, and co-piloting, and the investment enable it to develop and launch its first embodied AI products. It will also allow it to expand operations and partnerships in new markets, ‘building geographically diverse data assets and attracting global talent.’

“At Wayve, our vision is to develop autonomous technology that not only becomes a reality in millions of vehicles but also earns people’s trust by seamlessly integrating into their everyday lives to unlock extraordinary value,” said Alex Kendall, Co-founder and CEO of Wayve. “This significant funding milestone highlights our team’s unwavering conviction that Embodied AI will address the long-standing challenges the industry has faced in scaling this technology to everyone, everywhere.

“Our collaboration with SoftBank, NVIDIA, and Microsoft will help advance our mission to redefine driving with AI at the core. This investment will enable us to develop and launch our first Embodied AI products for the automotive industry, empowering OEMs to provide consumers with trustworthy and beneficial automated driving experiences.”

A concurrent announcement from DSIT said the investment was the biggest in a UK AI company in history, and it has used it as fodder for some more of its grandstanding on the subject, saying the deal ‘cements the UK’s position as a world leader in these emerging industries, with both the self-driving vehicle and AI sectors bringing huge potential for economic growth as they develop.’

It added that the self-driving vehicle industry in the UK is expected to be worth £42 billion and create 38,000 more skilled jobs by 2035.

The investment was significant enough for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to add a statement, saying: “From the first electric light bulb or the World Wide Web, to AI and self-driving cars - the UK has a proud record of being at the forefront of some of the biggest technological advancements in history. I’m incredibly proud that the UK is the home for pioneers like Wayve who are breaking ground as they develop the next generation of AI models for self-driving cars. The fact that a homegrown, British business has secured the biggest investment yet in a UK AI company is a testament to our leadership in this industry, and that our plan for the economy is working.

“We are leaving no stone unturned to create the economic conditions for businesses to grow and thrive in the UK. We already have the third highest number of AI companies and private investment in AI in the world, and this announcement anchors the UK’s position as an AI superpower.”

While autonomous driving as a concept has been teased for years, the practical application of what is alluded to – sitting with your feet up while the car drives you safely around – hasn’t really materialised, and the specific level of automation and realistic market timeframes around flashy showpieces at CES can sometimes seem a little vague.

What’s being talked up by Wayze seems a degree more explicit in what it means by autonomous driving, and were the technology to emerge on the market in the way described would surely mean something of a step-change – which is presumably why Softbank, Nvidia and Microsoft were willing to pump so much money into it.

But the extent to which Wayze delivers on this promised vision remains to be seen of course, and not everyone is convinced. Radio Free Mobile said in its analysis: “While I think that there is nothing wrong with Wayve as a company, I think that trying to crack an infinite problem with a finite solution is not going to work. This is because all systems based on deep learning and neural networks have no causal understanding of what it is that they are doing and as such, are unable to deal with any situation that they have not been explicitly taught.”In general, while the technology for autonomous driving is yet to fully manifest in the ways its proponents pitch it, there remains enthusiasm for the telecoms industry to hold it up as a use case for 5G, for politicians to frame it as national success stories, and for investors to pour money into it. We shall have to wait and see which technology mix eventually cracks the nut.

About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

Get the latest news straight to your inbox.
Register for the newsletter here.

You May Also Like