An Australian is leading a startup valued at US$1.5 billion, but no one is sure what it does

Zoox concept graphic from 2013 (source: Zoox/Eletric Vehicle News)

Not much is secret in the Silicon Valley startup scene, but one venture led by an Australian has shocked with a US$1.55 billion valuation — while still in stealth mode.

Zoox, a mysterious company co-founded by Victorian expat Tim Kentley-Klay, raised another US$50 million last month to take its total value up to a stunning US$1.55 billion, according to SiliconBeat.

New Hong Kong hedge fund Composite Capital reportedly led the latest round of funding. The money comes after Zoox closed a US$200 million round in June.

Being in stealth mode, details of the technology the company is working on are sketchy and chief executive Kentley-Klay has not yet opened up to the media about his plans. But from his presentations made at conferences, Zoox seems to be working on artificial intelligence to enable self-driving vehicles.

Blackbird Ventures, a venture capital fund backed by Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes, was an early supporter of Zoox. Cannon-Brookes celebrated Blackbird’s involvement on Tuesday as the latest funding for Zoox was announced:

The startup also has a regulatory leg-up, with Californian authorities in March granting it permission to test autonomous vehicles on the state’s public roads.

A sneak peak of Zoox’s vision, as Electric Vehicle News reported in 2013, shows a “post-car” vehicle that’s completely devoid of manual controls and accommodates passengers in train-like comfort.

“We don’t need a forward windshield, we don’t need a steering wheel, we don’t need side mirrors, we don’t need windscreen wipers,” Kentley-Klay told a conference in May, according to the AFR.

“We actually want to optimise the architecture for machine vision, not human vision. And then we can also change the interior experience to optimise what we want to be doing, not for the business of having to sit behind a steering wheel.”

Zoox is competing against some established players with very deep pockets, both in technology and in the automotive industries – the likes of Google, Uber, Apple, General Motors and Tesla.

Kentley-Klay said back in May that the differentiator for Zoox is that it’s not attempting to build a car as such.

“We think [a self-driving car is] really sub-optimal. And so what we’re working on is sort of what the full realisation in technology might be in one to two decades,” he said, according to the AFR.

But the mystery continues. Just try visiting Zoox’s website.

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