One of the new autonomous vehicle startups in Silicon Valley, Drive.ai, has been awarded a license to test autonomous vehicles in California, making it the 13th company to be granted a license in the state.
The Mountain View-based firm, which received $12 million in venture funding late in 2015, is one of several small companies forging ahead to build the systems to control an autonomous vehicle, a direct challenge to neighboring tech goliath, Alphabet Inc. In addition, Zoox Inc., based in Palo Alto, received its license to drive autonomous vehicles on California roads only a few weeks earlier. Attention on these small companies has been amplified after General Motors Co. agreed to purchase San Francisco-based Cruise Automation, which was also working on autonomous-vehicle technology, for more than $1 billion. GM’s move set off a swarm of attention by venture capitalists and other car companies aiming to bolster their efforts to build robot-controlled cars.
While the auto makers have huge research budgets and access to capital, the expertise in robotics required for vehicle autonomy pulls from a small pool of people. These startups may be able to advance the technology more quickly than the large auto makers on the basis of the specialized talent they possess.
Drive.ai says it is a “deep learning” company focused on the car’s brain. That means it is trying to use advanced software techniques that allow the computer to train itself to make the correct decisions in driving instead of programming in every conceivable move that a car might make while driving.
Drive.ai is working on software that could control a car using a small computer, rather than the expensive and powerful computers being used in test vehicles today, the company said in a release.