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Wayve lands $1B from SoftBank, Microsoft, NVIDIA to build AI tech for self-driving cars

Wayve Team
Picture credits: Wayve

Between 2018 and 2022, the UK self-driving vehicle sector alone generated £475 million of direct investment and created 1,500 new jobs. It is expected to be worth £42 billion and create 38,000 more skilled jobs by 2035. The AI sector also already employs more than 50,000 people in the UK and contributes more than £3.7 billion to the country’s economy every year. By 2035, the AI market is forecast to grow to over $1 trillion.

Wayve, a British unicorn is a testament to this growth as it develops the next generation of AI-powered self-driving vehicles. In a recent development, the company secured over $1 billion in Series C funding, marking the biggest investment in a UK AI company in history. This follows the $200 million Series B round it secured back in 2022. 

The investment came from Japanese conglomerate SoftBank along with the US chipmaker NVIDIA and Microsoft. Notably, it is the biggest investment to date in a European AI startup. Wayve will use the funds to develop and launch the first “embodied AI” technology for self-driving vehicles in the UK. 

What is Embodied AI?

Embodied AI will enable self-driving or autonomous vehicles to learn from and interact with a real-world environment, including the ability to navigate and learn from situations that do not follow strict patterns or rules, such as unexpected actions by drivers or pedestrians – going far beyond the capabilities of existing AV technology.

Pioneering AV2.0 efforts by Wayve

Founded in 2017 by Alex Kendall and Amar Shah, Wayve has emerged as a pioneer in the field of Embodied AI for autonomous driving. Notably, the company was the first to develop and test an end-to-end (e2e) AI autonomous driving system on public roads. This achievement has catalysed an industry-wide shift towards AI, known as ‘AV2.0’.

Wayve has said that their advancements in self-driving vehicle technology have been supported by the UK’s Code of Practice: Automated Vehicle Trialling, which sets out a clear framework to support and promote the safe trailing of self-driving vehicle technology. The code of practice is world-leading in its pro-innovation and flexible approach towards the development and testing of self-driving in the UK.

UK’s Automated Vehicles Bill

Wayve’s investment comes as the UK’s Automated Vehicle Bill is set to conclude its passage through parliament in the coming weeks. It will help British self-driving startups to scale and deploy their technology to increase safety. The Automated Vehicles Bill will unlock a transport revolution by enabling the safe deployment of self-driving vehicles and help UK companies deliver the world’s most comprehensive legal frameworks for self-driving vehicles with safety at its core.

Under the Bill’s provisions, all self-driving vehicles will be required to undergo robust safety testing before they are permitted to drive on UK roads. The Bill will also ensure clear legal liability when a vehicle is driving itself by creating new legal entities responsible for self-driving vehicles.

Self-driving vehicles also have the potential to make transport safer, more convenient, and more accessible, improving the lives of millions of people. With 88% of accidents currently involving human error, there is also huge potential for automated vehicles to reduce costs, injuries, and fatalities.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “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. 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. The fact that a homegrown, British business has secured the biggest investment yet in a UK AI company is a testament to our leadership in this industry, and that our plan for the economy is working.” 

Alex Kendall, Co-founder and CEO of Wayve said: “The UK has a rich and inspiring AI heritage, which lives on today with top talent, world-class universities, and innovation-friendly regulation, bolstered by events like the AI Summit. Today, we are proud to contribute to this legacy with our announcement of a $1.05bn Series C investment round, the largest-ever AI fundraise in UK history. This investment will help us launch our Embodied AI products and expand our operations globally. It sends a crucial signal to the market of the strength of the UK’s AI ecosystem, and we look forward to watching more AI companies here thrive and scale.”

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation, and Technology, Michelle Donelan said: “This investment is not only a vote of confidence both in our status as an AI and innovation powerhouse, but in the broader steps we have taken to make the UK a magnet for investment and growth. Wayve are a true homegrown success story, and today’s investment represents one of the largest ever backings for a UK start up. This injection of money will put the UK at the heart of driving forward new, cutting-edge AI solutions for self-driving vehicles, made possible by our pro-innovation approach to managing this generation-defining technology.”

Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “This is the latest in a long line of fantastic investments in the UK automotive sector, coming hot on the heels of major commitments by BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Nissan. The Government’s plan for advanced manufacturing is working, and this $1 billion investment in Wayve will ensure that cutting-edge technologies of the future are made in Britain.”

Transport Secretary Mark Harper said: “Self-driving cars will revolutionise road travel – making it safer and more convenient for everyone. Our Automated Vehicles Bill paves the way for their safe use in the UK, and opens the door for investment into innovative British companies like Wayve – putting the UK at the forefront of a growing global industry. This is an important part of our plan to grow the economy and create high-quality jobs into the future.”

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