UK’s FiveAI gets $35M to build a taxi service powered by its own self-driving car platform


The race is on for autonomous vehicle technology, and now a startup out of the U.K. is the latest to throw its hat into the ring to help build it. Cambridge-based FiveAI — a partner in the U.K.’s StreetWise self-driving project — has raised £14 million ($18 million) and £12.8 million ($17 million) in two tranches to fill out its plans for a two-part business in the world of self-driving services. First, FiveAI is building its own autonomous driving system; and second, FiveAI will use that AI-based platform to take on Uber and other transportation services with a fleet of self-driving taxis.

Lakestar Capital — the firm founded by prolific (and successful) investor Klaus Hommels — led this Series A round, with Amadeus Capital Partners, Notion Capital and Kindred (which all previously invested in its seed round of $2.7 million) also participating.

On top of the Series A, FiveAI will also get a boost in the form of a grant from the U.K. government: it has so far received £12.8 million ($17 million) for StreetWise, a project it’s working on with Transport for London, the Transport Research Laboratory, Oxford University, insurer Direct Line and others to develop a self-driving car pilot for London to cut traffic congestion and free up parking spaces. StreetWise is slated for its first test runs at the end of 2019.

There are many, many companies today working on autonomous car systems. They include other startups like Zoox and Nutonomy (which, like FiveAI, are building platforms that they plan to use in their own fleets), transportation providers like Uber, car makers (which themselves are acquiring startup talent to kickstart their efforts), those like Bosch that build in-car systems already and, of course, tech giants like Google, Apple and Baidu that approach cars like the next big hardware challenge.

With the billions in funding and armies of engineers that these companies have to commit to these efforts, FiveAI’s Series A and government grant appear very modest indeed.

But Stan Boland — FiveAI’s CEO and co-founder — is not one to be deterred. In an interview earlier today in FiveAI’s (still sparse) new offices, he made a case for why Europe needs its own startup in this area. For one, our driving culture is completely different and our cities don’t look like cities in the U.S. or Asia. And further, he argues that it’s high time that we see more moonshots coming from here, building on the region’s strength in artificial intelligence.

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