Autonomous vehicle startup Wayve raises $200m in Microsoft-backed round

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British autonomous vehicle startup Wayve has raised $200m (£147m) in a funding round backed by Microsoft and Virgin.

The London-based firm will use the capital to scale and deploy its autonomous vehicle technology, which uses cameras instead of LIDAR to map out a vehicle’s environment.

The Series B round was led by previous backer Eclipse Ventures, while D1 Capital Partners, Baillie Gifford, Moore Strategic Ventures and Linse Capital provided funds for the first time.

Early-stage investors Balderton Capital and Compound also provided capital, with support from Microsoft and Virgin.

It brings Wayve’s total funding to $258m, with the startup closing a $20m Series A investment in November 2019 prior to a slew of seed investments.

It also secured a $13.6m investment from online grocer Ocado in October 2021.

While Wayve did not provide an updated valuation, the funding is likely to make it the UK’s first tech unicorn of 2022 – a privately held company valued at $1bn or more.

Founded in 2017, Wayve is building technology that puts machine learning in the driving seat. Its approach, which it calls “AV 2.0”, uses cameras instead of more expensive LIDAR to detect the surroundings of a car or truck.

“Today, we have all of the pieces in place to take what we have pioneered and drive AV2.0 forward,” said Alex Kendall, co-founder and CEO of Wayve. “We have brought together world-class strategic partners in transportation, grocery delivery and compute, along with the best capital resources to scale our core autonomy platform, trial products with our commercial fleet partners, and build the infrastructure to scale AV2.0 globally.”

Wayve said it will use the latest funding to hire more AI scientists to develop its platform. It currently has around 120 staff based across its offices in London and Mountain View, California.

Despite recent advances, fully autonomous driverless vehicles without a steering wheel known as “level 5” remain some years away. The majority of pilot schemes take place in controlled conditions and with a human safety operator at the wheel ready to take control of the vehicle.

Wayve says it’s developing a level 4+ prototype for passenger vehicles and delivery plans, which means the car is fully autonomous but the driving can still take the wheel if required.

AI applications require large volumes of data to train algorithms – the more data, the more accurate the output. Wayve has partnered with companies operating fleets of delivery trucks, including grocers Ocado and Asda, to collect driving data to improve Wayve’s AI technology. Wayve most recently entered a partnership with parcel delivery company DPD.

The latest Wayve funding round follows a record year of UK tech funding, with VCs investing £18.55bn into London alone.

“[Wayvo] follows in the footsteps of 29 companies that reached a valuation of more than $1bn last year, bringing the total number of unicorns to well over 100,” said Gerard Grech, founding CEO of Tech Nation. “But unlike the first 100 tech unicorns – whose value has come from mobile, social, and location – the next 100 tech unicorns will comprise of companies like Wayve that use cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, blockchain, and quantum computing.”

Chris Philp, Digital Minister at the Department for Digital, Culture Media and Sport, said: “It’s brilliant to see investors around the world backing our innovative homegrown startups with millions in investment… The UK will continue to lead Europe for tech and AI in 2022.”

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