$1bn for UK start-up Wayve’s self-driving vehicles

Largest ever investment in a UK-based AI company will enable development and launch of first ‘embodied AI’ tech for autonomous cars  

London-based AI company Wayve has won $1.05 billion investment to develop the next generation of AI-powered self-driving vehicles. With backing from SoftBank Group, NVIDIA and Microsoft, the company will use the new investment in developing ‘embodied AI’ tech for self-driving vehicles in the UK. 

a car with its lights on, a robot waving from the open door

Photo by Ant Rozetsky

The idea is that this kind of embodied AI will mean that autonomous vehicles (AVs) are able to ‘learn’ from and interact with the real-world environment. That includes being able to tackle situations that do not follow pre-established patterns or rules, such as unexpected actions by drivers or pedestrians. That kind of ability would, of course, be very useful in ensuring the safety of passengers and other road users but it is not yet something that existing autonomous vehicles can do. 

The team at Wayve, which was founded in 2017, has been guided in their research and development by the framework contained in the UK’s code of practice, Automated Vehicle Trialling, in which a given company is accountable for safety rather than having to meet particular regulatory requirements. The idea behind this ‘hands-off’ approach is to be flexible and pro-innovation. 

According to the government, this approach is proving successful. The UK’s self-driving vehicle sector generated some £475m of direct investment between 2018 and 2022, and created 1,500 new jobs. The sector is expected to be worth some £42bn by 2035, creating 38,000 more skilled jobs. Meanwhile, the AI sector already contributes £3.7bn to the UK economy each year and employs more than 50,000 people. 

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says: ‘I’m incredibly proud that the UK is the home for pioneers like Wayve who are breaking ground as they develop the next generation of AI models for self-driving cars. The fact that a homegrown, British company has secured the biggest investment yet in a UK AI start-up is a testament to our leadership in this industry, and that our plan for the economy is working. We are leaving no stone unturned to create the economic conditions for start-ups to grow and thrive in the UK. We already have the third highest number of AI companies and private investment in AI in the world, and this announcement anchors the UK’s position as an AI superpower.’ 

Alex Kendall, Co-founder and CEO of Wayve says: ‘The UK has a rich and inspiring AI heritage, which lives on today with top talent, world-class universities, and innovation-friendly regulation, bolstered by events like the AI Summit. Today, we are proud to contribute to this legacy with our announcement of a $1.05bn Series C investment round, the largest-ever AI fundraise in UK history. 

‘The UK’s progressive testing framework has supported our rapid development of cutting-edge AI, and we’ve been pleased to work with the Government on the Automated Vehicles Bill which gives investors confidence that the UK is truly a leader in AI and AVs. 

‘This investment will help us launch our Embodied AI products and expand our operations globally. It sends a crucial signal to the market of the strength of the UK’s AI ecosystem, and we look forward to watching more AI companies here thrive and scale.’ 

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