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Autonomous vehicle startup Wayve raises $1bn in SoftBank-led round

Wayve SoftBank
Image credit: Wayve

London-based autonomous driving software startup Wayve has raised $1.05bn (£840m) from SoftBank, Nvidia and Microsoft in the largest-ever venture investment for a European AI firm.

The SoftBank-led round will support the development of Wayve’s embodied AI technology. The company describes embodied AI as advanced software integrated with vehicles and robots to determine how they interact with the world and learn from human behaviour.

The company said its software is akin to a GPT model for driving, wherein machines can respond to prompts from external sources using built-in data training.

“At Wayve, our vision is to develop autonomous technology that not only becomes a reality in millions of vehicles but also earns people’s trust by seamlessly integrating into their everyday lives to unlock extraordinary value,” said co-founder and CEO Alex Kendall.

Kendall said the new investment will enable the company to launch its first embodied AI products.

“AI is revolutionising mobility. Vehicles can now interpret their surroundings like humans, enabling enhanced decision-making that promises higher safety standards,” said Kentaro Matsui, managing partner at SoftBank Investment Advisers, who joins Wayve’s board.

“The potential of this type of technology is transformative; it could eliminate 99% of traffic accidents.”

Microsoft, which previously backed Wayve in its $200m (£160m) round in 2022, said Wayve’s technology would be supported by the tech giant’s “supercomputing capabilities and cloud computing” as well as the integration of Microsoft Co-pilot, a generative AI tool powered by ChatGPT.

The Series C round is also a boost for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s goal of establishing the UK as an AI superpower.

“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 business has secured the biggest investment yet in a UK AI company is a testament to our leadership in this industry,” said Sunak.

“We are leaving no stone unturned to create the economic conditions for businesses to grow and thrive in the UK.”

The UK autonomous driving technology market has been growing rapidly, with fellow British self-driving software firm Oxa last year securing a £115m investment in a round that included participation from Google.

Despite this growth, the timeline for legislation allowing the mass deployment of self-driving vehicles remains unclear.

The Autonomous Vehicles Bill from the Department for Transport has been bouncing between the houses. Nusrat Ghani – the minister of state for Europe, then serving as minister of state in the Business Department – told UKTN she felt “anxious” about the slow pace for adopting the technology.

However, Oxa CEO Gavin Jackson told UKTN in March that he believes the UK is in a good position to be a global leader in autonomous vehicles due to its regulatory approach and complex road systems providing rich training data.