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Wayve, an A.I. Start-Up for Autonomous Driving, Raises $1 Billion

Wayve, a London maker of artificial intelligence systems for autonomous vehicles, said on Tuesday that it had raised $1 billion, an eye-popping sum for a European start-up and an illustration of investor optimism about A.I.’s ability to reshape industries.

SoftBank, the Japanese conglomerate that backed Uber and other tech companies, was the lead investor, along with Microsoft and Nvidia. Previous investors in Wayve include Yann LeCun, Meta’s chief A.I. scientist.

Wayve, which had previously raised about $300 million, did not disclose its valuation after the investment.

Wayve was co-founded in 2017 by Alex Kendall, a Cambridge University doctorate student focused on computer vision and robotics. Unlike generative A.I. models, which create humanlike text and images and are being developed by OpenAI, Google and Anthropic, the so-called embodied A.I. systems made by Wayve serve as the brains for physical objects, be they cars, robots or manufacturing systems. The A.I. allows a machine to make real-time decisions on its own.

“The full potential of A.I. is when we have machines that are in the physical world that we can trust,” Mr. Kendall said.

Companies focused on autonomous driving are facing a bumpy period. The technology is expensive and difficult to build and faces intense regulatory scrutiny. Cruise, the General Motors self-driving subsidiary, removed its driverless cars from the road last year amid safety and legal concerns. Apple recently abandoned its self-driving car efforts after years of development.

Wayve, which has about 300 employees, has tested its technology on British roads since 2018 and will soon expand elsewhere. The software takes advantage of cameras, sensors and other modern car technology to see and react to different driving environments. Data collected as the car navigates a town or city is fed back into the A.I. system to help cars learn.

The approach differs from other autonomous vehicle developers like Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet. Wayve said its technology doesn’t rely as heavily on high-definition maps or lidar sensors, a laser tool used for measuring distance and detecting objects. Tesla has used an approach similar to Wayve in recent years.

Wayve has been building software to explain in plain English why a car made a certain driving decision — like why it stopped suddenly or slowed down — a layer of transparency to help win over regulators.

The amount raised by Wayve is among the largest recent start-up investments in Europe, which has historically lagged behind the United States for venture capital and tech financing. In December, Mistral, a French A.I. developer, raised 385 million euros, or about $415 million.

“I’m incredibly proud that the U.K. is the home for pioneers like Wayve who are breaking ground as they develop the next generation of A.I. models for self-driving cars,” Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain said in a statement.

Mr. Kendall, who is from New Zealand, said the investment from SoftBank and others would allow the company to turn its research into a full commercial product. He said Wayve was negotiating with several large automobile manufacturers to get its software in cars available to purchase, but declined to name them.

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