By John P. Desmond, AI Trends Editor
Raquel Urtasun hit the ground running as an entrepreneur on June 8, with the announcement of her autonomous driving software company Waabi, complete with $83.5 million in backing.
Urtasun has a long track record as a computer scientist, especially working to apply AI to self-driving car software. Uber hired her in May 2017 to lead a research team based in Toronto for the company’s self-driving car program. (See AI Trends, June 29, 2018)
“Self-driving is one of the most exciting and important technologies of our generation. Once solved at scale, it will change the world as we know it,” stated Urtasun in the Waabi launch press release. “Waabi is the culmination of my life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society and I’m honoured to be joined by a team of extraordinary scientists, engineers and technologists who are equally committed to executing on this bold vision.”
The Waabi launch was greeted with some skepticism, given the state of the self-driving car industry working to get off the ground. But Urtasan knows what she’s doing.
The latest financing round was led by Khosla Ventures, with additional participation from Urtasun’s former employer, Uber, and Aurora, the AV startup that ended up acquiring Uber ATG in a deal last year, according to an account in The Verge. Money was also raised from 8VC, Radical Ventures, Omers Ventures, BDC, AI luminaries Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler, and others, the report said.
Waabi will initially focus on the trucking industry, offering its software to automate driving on commercial delivery routes. One reason is, the industry has a shortage of truck drivers. Second, the highways are simpler than city streets for autonomous vehicles to navigate.
Wasabi’s technical approach will lean heavily on simulation, using techniques Urtasan has developed in her research. The company’s simulation approach will reduce the need for the miles of testing on real roads and highways that autonomous driving competitors have logged
“For us in simulation, we can test the entire system,” Urtasun stated to The Verge. “We can train an entire system to learn in simulation, and we can produce the simulations with an incredible level of fidelity, such that we can really correlate what happens in simulation with what is happening in the real world.”
To have an autonomous vehicle startup founded by a woman who developed the technology and is the CEO is unusual; Urtasan hopes to inspire other women to join the industry. “This is a field that is very dominated by white dudes,” she said. “The way to build integrating knowledge is to build technology with diverse perspectives, because by challenging e
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