British self-driving unicorn

British self-driving startup Wayve has announced that it has raised $1 billion in its latest round of funding, bringing its total funding to more than $1.3 billion, making it the largest investment ever in a British artificial intelligence startup. The Series C round was led by Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, with AI giants Nvidia and Microsoft also participating.

Based in London, Wayve was founded in 2017 and is one of many startups seeking to achieve autonomous driving. The company’s technology allows cars to drive effectively without human steering. Wayve also produces its own vehicles and licenses its autonomous driving technology to other companies, including retailers and car manufacturers.

Wayve will use the funding to expand and launch its own AI software product, known as “Embodied AI,” which refers to systems that are suitable for any autonomous device that needs to navigate and act in a physical environment. Ultimately, these systems will be deployed in the products of major automotive manufacturers. The company says this is a novel approach to autonomous driving that allows vehicles to navigate better without following strict patterns or rules, such as when other human drivers make unexpected moves, or when pedestrians run onto the road without looking, or when a tree suddenly falls onto the road. Unlike previous generations of autonomous driving AI, the startup’s software model has undergone “end-to-end” training – including receiving camera and sensor data about what’s happening around the vehicle and outputting the best driving control operation. The company has also trained a set of AI systems that match large language models with driving models so that the vehicle can interpret what it sees, why certain actions are being taken, and accept natural language commands.

Early autonomous vehicles primarily relied on multiple small AI models, each responsible for performing a specific task, such as identifying objects in camera data, and then combining these small models with complex software based on rules to make driving decisions. Embodied AI will address the long-term challenges that the autonomous driving industry faces as it seeks to bring this technology to the world. This technology will enable car manufacturers to accelerate their transition from assisted driving to fully autonomous driving.

Wayve has been working to solve these headache-inducing problems through its embedded AI system, which is said to be similar to “driving GPT,” enabling any vehicle to better perceive its surroundings and drive safely in different environments. The software is designed to learn driving rules and patterns autonomously, without requiring programming, so it can respond to new locations and unpredictable scenarios on the road.

By leveraging the raw power of artificial intelligence, an embedded artificial intelligence system can be built that learns how to handle edge cases at speeds beyond human programming from both the real world and synthetic data. AI can enable machines to interact with human behavior and learn from it in a paradigm-shifting way.

This investment is also a huge victory for the UK. The number of UK companies specializing in AI technology has already doubled that of other European countries, providing over 50,000 jobs and contributing £3.7 billion (about $4.6 billion) to the economy. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has been working to turn the country into a global AI hub, hoping to be at the forefront of technological development and regulation.

The support expressed by leading companies with real money also makes the UK more confident in this regard. In April, Microsoft announced that it would set up an AI research office in London.

According to the UK government, the autonomous driving car industry has brought £475 million ($5.96 billion) in direct investment to the UK between 2018 and 2022. The government says it has also created 1,500 new jobs. After this round of financing, Wayve’s total financing has exceeded that of Aleph Alpa in Germany (which raised $500 million in November last year) and Mistral in France (which raised $4.15 billion in December last year).

A British domestic enterprise has set the largest financing record for UK AI enterprises to date, solidifying Britain’s international status as an AI superpower.

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