British self-driving AI car firm wins record funding

LONDON: Britain's tech start-up Wayve on Tuesday announced a record $1.05-billion fundraising led by Japan's SoftBank to develop artificial intelligence systems for autonomous vehicles.

Wayve, which was founded in 2017 as a pioneer of vehicle-embedded AI, has also secured some of the cash from US technology titan Microsoft and semiconductor giant Nvidia, it said in a statement.

The deal is the largest fundraising to date among European startups at the forefront of AI development, according to data provider Dealroom.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hailed Wayve's announcement as the largest investment ever made in a UK company in the AI sector.

Wayve's technology, called Embodied AI, allows self-driving cars to learn from and react to real-world environments, unlike traditional systems that rely on pre-programmed maps.

"This innovation holds tremendous potential to enhance the usability and safety of autonomous driving systems, empowering them with the intelligence to confidently navigate situations that do not follow strict patterns or rules, such as unexpected actions by drivers, pedestrians, or environmental elements," Wayve said.

The group noted that its technology "can empower any vehicle to perceive its surroundings and safely drive through diverse environments."

SoftBank executive and Wayve board member Kentaro Matsui added that AI was "revolutionizing" mobility.

"Vehicles can now interpret their surroundings like humans, enabling enhanced decision-making that promises higher safety standards," Matsui said in the statement.

"The potential of this type of technology is transformative; it could eliminate 99 percent of traffic accidents."

Wayve's funding news came as the UK government's Automated Vehicle Bill – which will regulate the use of self-driving vehicles on the roads and in other public places – was set to conclude its passage through parliament in the coming weeks to become law. -- AFP

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