Wayve, the lidar-free, self-driving startup, raises $ 13.6 million from Ocado – TechCrunch


Wayve, a UK-based self-driving startup that excels at using deep learning and cameras instead of more expensive lidar and other sensors to guide vehicles, is preparing for its next stage of development with a strategic backer. Ocado – the online grocer that also operates online food systems for other retailers like Kroger in the US – announced today that it is investing £ 10 million ($ 13.6 million at today’s prices) in the startup.

The deal will give Ocado early access to London-based Wayve technology, which will be used in a test where Wayve hardware and software will be attached to Ocado vans and tested in real-world traffic congestion scenarios for a year. what is uncomfortable applies to small residential streets and navigates complicated street layouts without a grid.

In the longer term, Ocado would like to use the technology in its broader global presence: The British company is licensing its food picking, inventory and logistics technology, which it calls the Ocado Smart Platform (OSP), to other retailers around the world.

The deal is a one-way street in terms of data: Wayve will also retrofit Ocado vehicles with its computers and cameras to collect more data on delivery traffic in general: the company’s great claim is that it doesn’t depend on expensive lidar and operate other sensors, and that also means it can be used in unfamiliar environments, but it still needs a lot of training data for its machine learning to operate this system.

“The Ocado Group has been driving innovations in global food logistics for decades. Their innovative approach to grocery stores and their international reach aligns strongly with Wayve’s culture and global ambitions, ”said Alex Kendall, CEO of Wayve, in a statement. “I am incredibly excited to be working with the Ocado Group and learning from their extensive expertise. There is currently enormous momentum around the world to change mobility in the food sector. We are focused on providing an autonomous last mile solution to support the needs of grocery retailers everywhere. Through this partnership with the Ocado Group, we want to enable autonomous delivery to more locations worldwide, faster. “

The deal is not exclusive on either side.

It is on Wayve’s side too Working with at least one other major UK retailer – just last month, Asda (the UK superstore that used to be owned by Walmart but is no longer) started a process with the company. Records at Companies House shows that Wayve has been working with Ocado for a few months now, so there seems to have been a bit of a scramble between the two supermarket rivals to get the news out of their engagements.

Wayve has other strategic investors in the company: Virgin – the conglomerate that has interests in a wide variety of companies – announced an undisclosed investment in the startup in March. In total, Wayve has announced more than $ 58 million in funding including Yann LeCun, Balderton and Firstminute (Brent Hobermans VC).

On the side of Ocado, the company secures its bets with autonomous driving technology.

Earlier this year, Ocado also invested a similar amount in Oxbotica, which is developing software to run these systems.

The two investments represent different approaches to solving the challenge of autonomous driving.

“They’re orthogonal solutions like Android and iPhone,” said Alex Harvey, Chief of Advanced Technology, Ocado Group, when we asked how the two could work together. “They don’t work together, but for us they represent two different ways of solving this very complex challenge that Ocado would like to solve for its OSP partners at the earliest possible point in time.”

Since both approaches are still far from a full, real implementation, it is important that we continue to see a variety of approaches in this phase in order to find the best and most secure solutions (not just the most cost-effective). .

“Ocado is committed to being at the forefront of solving one of the most complex technological challenges of our time – automating last mile deliveries in crowded, busy and unstructured urban environments. We know there can be many different technical ways to solve this challenge, ”said Harvey. “Our investment portfolio in the field of autonomous driving reflects this ambition and offers us an unrivaled platform to accelerate the development of this capability for our OSP partners.”

In addition to researching the potential of the various technological approaches, another key incentive for investing in Wayve is the fact that the startup’s system would be significantly more cost-effective to implement than one based on lidar and other sensors. (Wayve sells its approach as “AI software, lean hardware, and fleet learning platform for AV 2.0”.)

Regardless of the direction in which self-driving technology is headed, this latest deal marks another step for Ocado in building its next generation of technology and underscores how the company has put autonomous systems at the heart of that strategy.

“Ocado is on the way to developing highly intelligent autonomous mobility systems to further transform the economics and offerings of the Ocado Smart Platform for our OSP retail partners,” Harvey said in a statement. “We have been impressed with Wayve’s approach to solving these most complex challenges and look forward to accelerating our capabilities so that our trading partners around the world can take advantage of them at the earliest opportunity.”

Updated with comment from Ocado re: its Oxbotica investment and autonomous technology in general.

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