Activity in the self-driving car industry, frenetic for years, has stagnated somewhat lately; but a handful of the most promising companies continue to see their businesses grow and attract investment in the process. In one of the most recent developments, Oxbotica, an English startup that develops software to power autonomous vehicles, closed the Series C round of $140 million, money it will use to continue developing services for existing customers and to mobilize new business in this wake.
The size of the cycle matters in any regard, bull or bear market, but it’s a signal of how well AI startups are still doing right now, and the types of companies working with and looking to support, startups are breaking new ground in the autonomous driving space.
The core model of Oxbotica – eight years old and based in Oxford, England – is B2B: it sells and customizes its standalone software, which it dubs “Universal Autonomy”, for a range of enterprise clients. Its premise is that its flexible technology can power anything a customer needs: navigation, perception, user interfaces, fleet management, or other functionality needed to operate autonomous vehicles in multiple environments, regardless of hardware and integration. . with any other software used by its customers.
Underscoring its traction with this premise, this latest funding comes from a mix of investors that include some of these strategic backers and clients. The Japanese Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Ltd and ENEOS Innovation Partners, the venture capitalist of the mining conglomerate Eneos, are among its new investors; Previous backers in this round include BGF, security equipment group Halma, hospitality and leisure investor Hostplus, climate fund Kiko Ventures (IP Group), online retailer Ocado Group , internet giant Tencent, Venture Science and auto component maker ZF, several of which also invested in its latest round, a Series B in January 2021 of $47 million.
This round brings the total raised by Oxbotica to $225 million. The startup isn’t disclosing its valuation, but Paul Newman, CTO and co-founder of the company, noted that the fact that it’s one of the standalone startups raising big right now, and the appetite current for AI startups building apps around their innovations, have contributed quite a few.
“You should think of it as being in a space that investors really like,” he said. At a time when businesses, consumers, investors and startups themselves are reassessing things like self-driving technology through more pragmatic, less rosy-tinted lenses, asking questions about unit economics and commercial and technical viability, Oxbotica, he said, has emerged as a leader in “applying autonomy where the world needs it.”
It also translated into much shorter conversations with investors, the kind that don’t typically happen in other tech sectors. “It didn’t take long to show that you can fix what’s really needed versus what isn’t a problem at all,” added CEO Gavin Jackson. “It was a distinction investors quickly picked up on within the first 30 seconds we spoke to them.”
Indeed, while some of the most ambitious efforts around self-driving vehicles for consumers have been abandoned or faced tragic crashes; it has emerged that closed campus-like environments where it is more dangerous and/or less efficient to employ humans to navigate vehicles have become one of the most popular use cases for this and other building autonomous systems.
In addition to the industries of its strategic investors, other use cases where Oxbotica builds services include agriculture, airports, energy, and shared passenger transportation.
All this does not mean that everything is perfect. Some (and possibly all) of its actual commercial rollouts appear to be medium-to-long term. One of his big milestones this year was in May 2022, when he staged Europe’s first zero occupancy trial (note the word trial) on a publicly accessible road. He has also worked on “metaverse-based testing” and forged alliances with insurance companies.
Newman admits what he described in our interview as “sticking points” that have yet to be resolved in the highly complex world of building autonomous vehicles and systems.
“It’s exciting to be able to connect fleet management to our operating system,” he told me. In his favor, once something is solved, it’s solved for everyone. A mining company’s need to integrate Oxbotica into its system to send drivers to the mines is the same that Ocado will have to connect its delivery vehicles.
The amount he has proven, meanwhile, has convinced clients and backers that it’s no longer a matter of “if”, but when it comes to fruition.
“Oxbotica truly sets itself apart from its competitors with its ambitious vision to unlock universal autonomy,” Mitsuru Yamaguchi, managing director of Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance Co., Ltd, said in a statement. “We are excited to combine Oxbotica’s world-class artificial intelligence and robotic techniques with our own pioneering expertise in telematics insurance. This will position us well to develop innovative insurance products and services that will create a safer, greener and more secure society for all.
“We are delighted to increase our investment in Oxbotica, which has become a global leader in software for autonomous vehicles,” added Erin Hallock, managing partner at bp ventures. “Our continued support is a great example of bp ventures’ continued investment in game-changing technology companies. By leveraging automation and digital technology, we believe the team can improve safety and increase efficiency across a wide range of vehicles, and support bp’s ambition to accelerate the global revolution in mobility.