France’s Navya raises $34M for its self-driving shuttle bus, reportedly at a $220M valuation

When it comes to self-driving cars, the public tends to focus on developments for private vehicles for individuals, but there are also some significant advances underway in other categories such as shuttle busses.

In the latest piece of news, Navya, a startup out of France that makes driverless shuttles, has raised $34 million (€30 million) in funding to build out its team, technology and sales. The funding is coming from two strategic backers, public transportation provider Keolis and automotive parts group Valeo, along with Qatari investors Group8.

Navya is not disclosing its valuation but one report from Funderbeam estimates it at $222 million after this round. Navya prior to this round had raised $4.5 million (€4.1 million) from French investors Gravitation, CapDecisif, and Robolution Capital (an investment fund focused only on robotics investments).

Navya’s flagship vehicle, the Arma, was in development for 10 years before it was launched in October 2015. The Arma is completely electric and autonomous and can carry up to 15 passengers and drive up to 45 km/hour (28 miles per hour). The company already has vehicles on the road in Lyon in a public transportation project, along with other unnamed strategic agreements, and it also has plans to manufacture and roll them out also in the Middle East in partnership with Group8.

Meeting demand from municipal organizations, and companies that have closed but large campuses that require transportation to move from point A to B, the aim is to have 30 vehicles in use by the end of this year, the company said.

While that will give Navya a jump on the market for autonomous shuttle buses, it is not the only one putting its pedal to the metal to meet demand.

This past summer, IBM showed off its first Watson-powered foray into self-driving cars, which came in the form of Olli, a minibus from Local Motors. Mercedes-Benz also recently reached a milestone when its autonomous bus completed a 12-mile journey. Even Yandex, the Russian search giant that has more recently been repositioning itself as a mobile and machine learning company, is building a shuttle bus.

Competition, it seems, was part of the reason for seeking investment, particularly from strategic partners that could help Navya grow.

“To secure sustainable growth in an increasingly competitive context, we have chosen a partnership strategy that allows us, on the one hand, to optimize costs with the offers of one of the largest automotive suppliers to stay competitive, and on the other hand to ensure most effectively the international deployment of our autonomous mobility solution, the Navya Arma,” said Christophe Sapet, the startup’s chairman, in a statement.

“Achieving faster critical volumes will reduce investments from cities and companies who wish to equip themselves with intelligent and autonomous mobility solutions and thus accelerate the growth of our company.”

Among the investors in this latest round, Navya has some companies with some existing track record in the self-driving space.

Keolis, which contracts with municipalities to build and run their transportation systems, will be starting to get demand from those customers to provide more sustainable and efficient vehicles; and Valeo will want to help build those machines. And make sure they are running smoothly: just last week Valeo was one of the most recent companies to obtain a driverless testing permit in California.

Here’s a look at Navya’s Arma in action: