Another week, another story about a promising independent self-driving vehicle company. Last week, Otto came out of stealth to offer autonomous technology for trucks, and today MIT spinoff NuTonomy announced $16 million in funding to go after its ambitious goal of offering self-driving taxis within two years.
Cambridge, MA-based NuTonomy was founded by MIT PhDs graduates Karl Iagnemma (CEO) and Emilio Frazzoli (CTO) in 2013 and it is pioneering self-driving technology for cars — yes, the very kind of vehicle that Uber, Google, BMW, GM/Lyft, China’s Baidu and others are currently developing. Like Otto but unlike the aforementioned big names, NuTonomy retrofits existing cars with the technology to make them driverless.
The company announced a $3.6 million seed round in January, which included input from Ford chairman Bill Ford’s Fontinalis Partners fund, and today it revealed its $16 million Series A round. The new investment is led by Highland Capital Partners, with participation from the Singapore Economic Development Board (via its EDBI investment arm), Ford’s fund and other existing backers including Signal Ventures and Samsung Ventures.
NuTonomy maintains strong links with Singapore. The investment aside, it has an office in the city-state and it has trialled self-driving vehicles there. Initially it began in 2014 with autonomous golf cart-style buggies summoned by a smartphone app, but now it is testing a fleet of self-driving taxis which it believes could be deployed commercially in Singapore by 2018.
The startup is working closely with SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology) as part of the organization’s broad mandate to improve Singapore and its residents’ lifestyles through technology. Singapore’s smart city initiative covers topics as diverse as cashless wallets, open government APIs, a push to promote entrepreneurialism, and increased security surveillance, but self-driving car tech is also on the agenda.
NuTonomy is making inroads in Singapore — and winning the backing of the country’s tech sector — at an interesting time. The country only introduced the first steps to manage on-demand taxi services in April, and yet already the very self-driving concepts they are in the first stages of testing in the U.S. are edging close to hitting the roads in Singapore, which are being designed and architected specifically to support driverless vehicles.
Self-driving NuTonomy cars are also being tested in Michigan and the UK, where Jaguar Land Rover is among the partners.