While automakers and startups continue to hone the technology for self-driving cars for individuals, a second track of development in the area of autonomous buses is also taking shape. Today, Navya, a French company that has been a leader in developing autonomous shuttles, announced that it has raised an additional €30 million ($34 million) from the European Investment Bank to continue building out its business.
The investment comes on the heels of another significant financial event in the life of the company. On July 24, Navya (first founded in 2014) went public on the Euronext exchange in Paris and raised €38 million ($44 million). It’s had a somewhat lacklustre early performance: the company’s market cap is currently at €188.8 million, compared to a debut at €190 million.
The company has in total raised €80 million this year, it said. “Navya thus has extensive resources to strengthen its technological leadership, to expand its sales and marketing teams and to invest in strategic adjacent markets, while pursuing further international expansion,” the company said of the financing round.
The EIB has backed a number of other fast-moving startups in Europe, including the payments startup iZettle, which later got acquired by PayPal. Its funding for Navya will come in two tranches of €15 million, with the second dependent on the company meeting (unspecified) targets.
The opportunities (and challenges) in fully autonomous cars are vast, and we are still likely many years away from seeing a full-scale roll of them anytime soon, as carmakers and their partners continue to work on safer and more accurate AI systems to run them on the seemingly endless number of permutations of roads, routes and driving scenarios; and that is before you consider the best usage models to underpin these businesses.
Autonomous shuttles, on the other hand, have had some interesting progress that points to their services coming to a stop near you, possibly sooner than you think. One of the reasons for this is that a lot of the deployments are focused on specific loops, often in closed environments where movement might be more easily predicted.
In May, it was reported that Apple had signed a deal with Volkswagen on a fleet of autonomous staff shuttles (and that it might also be partnering, with Mercedes-Benz and BMW, on self-driving cars). Daimler and Bosch are working on a self-driving shuttle service for San Francisco. There is now an autonomous shuttle in Times Square in New York (courtesy of Coast).
Navya itself has been involved in a year-long trial in Las Vegas, offering rides to passengers in a half-mile loop around the center of the city, along with a number of projects in its home market, using a version of its flagship Autonom shuttle. It says that 100 of these shuttles have been produced to date, with 89 of them already sold across 17 countries, including the US, France, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Australia. It’s also now developing a smaller version called the Autonom Cab that will begin tests shortly.
This is on top of earlier efforts from IBM, which has a Watson-powered shuttle built with Local Motors called Olli, and Yandex, the Russian search giant that has repositioned itself as a mobile and machine learning company, is also building a shuttle bus.