A startup born out of Stanford just raised $50 million to make the brain for self-driving cars

Drive.ai car
An Audi test car with the Drive.ai roof kit. Drive.ai

Drive.ai, a startup born out of Stanford’s AI lab, just raised $US50 million to design and sell the brain for self-driving cars.

That car brain comes in the form of a retrofit kit that uses off-the-shelf sensors, like radar and lidar, to help self-driving vehicles navigate.

Drive.ai’s main calling card, however, is its deep learning software that Drive.ai CEO Sameep Tandon says will allow vehicles to learn to handle difficult driving scenarios at a faster pace.

“What we are building at Drive.ai is the brains for self-driving cars,” Tandon told Business Insider. “We think self-driving cars are going to make roads safer, give us our time back, and re-imagine our cities.”

Deep learning is a branch of artificial intelligence that lets machines learn as they go. That means, just like a person, a self-driving car will get better at driving the more it encounters different driving scenarios.

The cutthroat race to get self-driving vehicles on the road has left plenty of room for engineers to launch their own startups.

Traditional car manufacturers are constantly vying for AI talent that tends to gravitate toward Silicon Valley companies, like Tesla. That demand has created a dynamic where AI experts would rather create their own startups and partner with different car companies rather than work with one outright.

Drive.ai is differentiating itself from other startups, like Argo AI and AutoX, by targeting businesses instead of consumers. The retrofit kits can be installed on a variety of vehicles, like cargo vans and delivery trucks, Tandon said.

“We want vehicles that are constantly moving, constantly being used,” Tandon said. “Over time, we do think that this is something that will make its way into consumer vehicles, but we want to focus on getting them out into the world as soon as possible.”

The Series B funding round led by NEA brings Drive.ai’s total funding to $US62 million. Drive.ai has also brought Andrew Ng, a renowned AI expert and adjunct professor at Stanford, on as a board member.

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