The race to develop fully autonomous vehicles is heating up this week as Wayve, a UK-based company that specializes in the development of AI-powered technologies for autonomous driving, announced that it raised $1.05 billion during its Series C funding round led by SoftBank Group.

This landmark investment, which has already been categorized as the largest AI funding round in the United Kingdom to date, will accelerate Wayve’s mission to revolutionize autonomous mobility through a groundbreaking innovation called embodied artificial intelligence (AI).

Embodied AI: A Paradigm Shift for Autonomous Driving

At the heart of Wayve’s business model lies the concept of Embodied AI, an approach that changes how machines interact with and learn from human behavior in real-world environments.

Wayve’s technology integrates AI directly into the vehicles their software powers. The system is designed to navigate the complexities that drivers tend to face while on the road by enhancing how it perceives, understands, and responds to different situations and scenarios.

The company was founded in 2017 to transform autonomous driving by introducing a novel approach. It was among the first to test end-to-end (e2e) deep learning solutions on public roads in the United Kingdom.

Wayve’s Embodied AI is incredibly advanced and it has been deemed the “GPT for driving,” referring to the all-powerful ChatGPT chatbot’s GPT-4 AI model. Naturally, having a trusted, advanced AI take the wheel is essential for the adoption of self-driving tech.

“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.”, he highlighted in a press release published this morning.

Wayve’s Strategic Partnerships Set It Up for Greatness

In addition to the lead investor – SoftBank Group – Wayve’s Series C funding round also welcomed contributions from NVIDIA as a new investor and Microsoft (MSFT), which had already participated in previous rounds.

This strategic partnership with industry giants is poised to accelerate Wayve’s mission, leveraging their respective expertise in hardware, software, and cloud computing technologies to further advance its Embodied AI ambitions.

NVIDIA’s cutting-edge GPUs, designed explicitly for transformer, large language models (LLMs), and generative AI workloads, can provide the computational power required to train and deploy Wayve’s advanced AI models.

“Wayve is pioneering new AI applications for their next-generation AV2.0 approach, built on NVIDIA DRIVE Orin and DRIVE Thor, which uses the new NVIDIA Blackwell architecture designed for transformer, LLM, and Generative AI workloads,” said Rishi Dhall, Vice President of Automotive Business at NVIDIA.

“Together, we can help enable self-driving vehicles that deliver the intelligence, dependability, and skill of the best human drivers.”

Meanwhile, Microsoft’s expertise in cloud computing, developer platforms, and AI model commercialization will play a crucial role in scaling Wayve’s Embodied AI solutions by helping the company reach as many corporate customers as possible.

“Microsoft is pleased to be working with Wayve to develop and deploy Wayve’s end-to-end AI autonomous driving products for automotive enterprise customers,” said Dominik Wee, Corporate Vice President of Manufacturing and Mobility at Microsoft.

“By utilizing Microsoft’s supercomputing capabilities and cloud computing technology, copilot-enabled developer platform, enterprise data management applications, and leading AI model commercialization expertise, Wayve can deliver and scale innovative Embodied AI solutions that enable safer and more accessible autonomous driving experiences,” Wee added.

Ford and Jaguar are Among the First Vehicle Platforms to Test Wayve’s Technology

Wayve’s embodied AI products are designed to allow automakers to efficiently upgrade cars to higher levels of driving automation, from assisted driving to fully autonomous operation, as the company’s AI models continue to advance.

Wayve’s software can be easily integrated into vehicles through over-the-air software updates that facilitate the transition from the previous software.

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Various platforms have already embraced Wayve’s Embodied AI technology including popular electric-powered vehicles like the Ford Mustang Mach-E and the Jaguar I-PACE. These models are currently powered by the company’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS).

To further enhance drivers’ in-vehicle experience, the company has also developed generative AI models known as LINGO and GAIA that help automakers create highly-responsive interfaces and enable co-piloting features that easily integrate with its autonomous driving software.

UK’s PM Rishi Sunak Applauds Waymo Record-Setting Funding Round

The significance of Wayve’s $1.05 billion funding round has not gone unnoticed by the British government, which has long championed the country’s capabilities for technological innovation.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed the investment as “a testament to our leadership in this industry, and that our plan for the [UK] economy is working.”

rishi sunak uk pm applauds wayve's $1 billion funding round

“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,” Sunak stated. “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.”

Sunak’s comments showcase the British government’s recognition of the importance of fostering the right environment to incentivize innovation and technological advancements.

The Prime Minister emphasized the government’s commitment to creating favorable economic conditions for businesses to thrive in the UK, noting that the country already boasts the third-highest number of AI companies and private investment in AI globally.

“We are leaving no stone unturned to create the economic conditions for businesses to grow and thrive in the UK… this announcement anchors the UK’s position as an AI superpower,” the British PM asserted.

The government’s support for Wayve’s endeavors is a testament to the company’s potential to drive significant economic and societal impact. By nurturing homegrown talent and innovative companies like Wayve, the UK aims to solidify its position as a global leader in the development and commercialization of cutting-edge technologies.

How Does Wayve Compare to Tesla and Other Competitors?

While Wayve’s embodied AI approach is attracting significant attention, the company is not alone in the race to develop fully autonomous driving technology. Competitors like Tesla (TSLA), Baidu, and Pony.ai are also making strides in this arena, each with their own unique strategies and technologies.

In China, for instance, Tesla managed to secure the approval of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology as it is facing strong competition from local rivals like BYD, Huawei, Xpeng, Li Auto, and Xiaomi, all of which have unveiled their own advanced driver-assistance systems designed for the country’s densely populated urban landscapes.

Tesla’s bid to bring FSD to China has been met with a mix of enthusiasm and caution from local industry players. While Xpeng Motors’ CEO, He Xiaopeng, welcomed the move and even applauded regulators decision to “let a hundred flowers bloom”, he also predicted that the next decade would be a decade-long battle for dominance of smart EVs.

“If the last 10 years were the decade of new energy, the new decade will be the decade of smart cars,” Xiaopeng commented in a LinkedIn post.

The autonomous driving race in China is not limited to traditional automakers and tech giants as startups like DeepRoute.ai are also pushing through the woods to conquer a share of the market, offering software solutions and affordable self-driving features for mass-market vehicles.

DeepRoute.ai’s co-founder, Maxwell Zhou, emphasized the importance of advanced driver-assistance systems, stating: “You must have a high-level driving solution to prove you have a smart car, not a stupid car.”

Beyond China, the race for autonomous driving supremacy is heating up globally, with companies like Waymo, Cruise, and Argo AI investing heavily in developing self-driving technologies for ride-hailing and logistics applications while Tesla is also investing billions in developing the kind of technology that can power a fleet of robo-taxis.

Wayve is Paving the Way for a New Future for AI- Powered Mobility

It seems obvious that autonomous driving is the future, but we aren’t yet sure how that future will shape up and which companies will end up leading the final charge. As Wayve prepares to launch its embodied AI products for production vehicles, the company’s impact on the automotive industry and the future of mobility will surely be transformative.

“The potential of this type of technology is transformative; it could eliminate 99% of traffic accidents,” said Kentaro Matsui, Managing Partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers and a Wayve board member. “SoftBank Group is delighted to be at the forefront of this effort with Wayve, as advanced intelligence redefines mobility and connectivity, contributing to a more convenient and safer society.”

The impact of Embodied AI extends beyond the realm of autonomous vehicles, with applications in robotics and other industries where machines need to interact with and learn from human behavior in complex environments.

Wayve’s research and development in this area could pave the way for breakthroughs in fields such as manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics that can further solidify the company’s position as a leading force in the AI revolution.