Author: Eric Walz
Pony.ai equips robot taxis with self-driving technology in partnership with Toyota.
Companies developing self-driving technologies for automakers or mobility services continue to secure significant investments. Among the American leaders are Waymo and GM’s Cruise unit. But in China, self-driving startup Pony.ai is quickly establishing itself as a leader in the field.
Pony.ai closed its first close of a Series D funding round, which, combined with its previous funding, pushed its valuation to $8.5 billion.
The company closed a $367 million Series C funding round in February 2021, after a $100 million tranche was added to the $267 million Pony.ai raised in November 2020. The company also secured a $400 million investment from Toyota in February 2020.
Additional details on the Series D funding will be announced upon the close of the full round, the company said.
Although Pony.ai is headquartered in Canton, China, the company was founded in 2016 in Fremont, California. The company’s goal is to develop the safest and most reliable self-driving technology. Pony.ai is one of eight companies, including Waymo and Cruise, to have been granted a permit to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in California without an onboard safety driver.
In just a few years, Pony.ai has achieved significant technical milestones and progress towards the commercialization of robotaxis and self-driving trucks. The latest investments show investor confidence in Pony.AI’s ability to scale its advanced self-driving technology.
“Our company has always been well funded, and this round funds Pony.ai’s development for several years to come,” said Lawrence Steyn, Chief Financial Officer of Pony.ai.
Pony.ai said proceeds from the funding round will be used to hire talent, fund research and development and expand global testing of its robotaxis and self-driving trucks, enter into additional strategic partnerships and accelerate its path to production. mass and commercial deployment. Pony.ai plans to open a number of new global sites for testing and operating autonomous vehicles in 2022.
Pony.ai has been testing its robotaxi pilot service dubbed “PonyPilot” since late 2018 in Silicon Valley and Guangzhou, China. The company was the first to launch a robotaxi service in China and bring self-driving car rides to the general public. Pony.ai plans to launch its robotaxi service in China using a fleet of self-driving Toyota Sienna minivans.
To support its robotaxis fleet, Pony.ai has developed its own self-driving computer unit based on NVIDIA’s powerful Orin system-on-chip (SoC). The processor is Pony.ai’s 6th generation autonomous driving system and was designed for automotive-grade mass production. The first Toyota Sienna vehicles equipped with the system will begin road tests in China later this year.
This autonomous computing unit powered by NVIDIA DRIVE Orin will rapidly accelerate the deployment of Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities, according to Pony.ai.
Last year, Pony.ai announced that its new perception platform had been developed in conjunction with Volvo-backed lidar developer Luminar. The vehicles will integrate Luminar’s Iris sensor.
Pony.ai’s autonomous vehicles are able to navigate city traffic, obeying all traffic laws, including yielding to pedestrians and cyclists.
“I’m very proud to announce this first close of our Series D,” said James Peng, co-founder and CEO of Pony.ai. “The success of this funding belongs to the entire Pony.ai team, who have made tremendous progress in meeting and exceeding our 2021 goals. We are thrilled with our 2022 goals and the rapid pace of our development towards mobility. autonomous on a global scale.
In an interview with CNBC in November 2019, Peng predicted that fully autonomous vehicles that carry passengers in China will be a reality by 2024.
“If I have to give a number, I’ll probably say in five years,” Peng said at the time. “We will definitely see widespread adoption of self-driving vehicles – fully self-driving vehicles – on open roads.”
Now well funded, Pony.ai is getting closer to its goal.