Self-driving truck startup Ike raises $52 million


ike trucks
Image Credits: Ike

Ike, the autonomous trucking startup founded by veterans of Apple, Google and Uber Advanced Technologies Group’s self-driving truck program, has raised $52 million in a Series A funding round led by Bain Capital Ventures.

Redpoint Ventures, Fontinalis Partners, Basis Set Ventures and Neo also participated in the round. Bain Capital Ventures partner Ajay Agarwal has joined Ike’s board. 

Ike’s funding round will help the company expand beyond its 30-person team as it drives forward with its mission to build a commercial product at scale. It’s a mission — expand and deploy — that sounds a lot like other autonomous vehicle startups. But that’s where the parallels end.

Ike’s three founders — Jur van den BergNancy Sun and Alden Woodrow — aren’t pushing to have the first self-driving trucks on the road. It’s a declaration, and one the company outlined Tuesday in a blog post on Medium, that lies in contrast with a budding and cutthroat industry often described as being in a frantic race.

ike trucking sensors

But then again, these founders were in the thick of those buzzy, heady days of 2016 and 2017, when startups were being snapped up by automakers and big tech companies and term sheets were raining down.

Van den Berg and Sun were both working at Apple’s special projects group when they left to join Otto, an autonomous trucking startup that was acquired by Uber in 2016. Woodrow, who was product lead of Google X’s Makani project, would also end up at Uber ATG by February 2017 as group product manager of its self-driving truck program.

By 2018, the last of Otto’s founders had left Uber and the self-driving trucks program was in free fall. Sun, Woodrow and van den Berg left Uber by spring 2018 to launch Ike. A few months later, Uber announced it would shutter its self-driving trucks unit to focus on autonomous cars.

In short, Ike’s founders have seen a thing or two, including missteps and exciting breakthroughs, splashy reveals and a heaping spoonful of hubris.

“The temptation when you’re working on this technology — because there’s so much potential and because there’s so much excitement for it — especially for small companies in the early stages, is to try and hack something together and try to get up and running really quickly,” Alden Woodrow, co-founder and CEO of Ike told TechCrunch in a recent interview.

That’s not what Ike is doing, Sun noted. Instead, the company is taking a systems engineering approach and sprinkling in a little Silicon Valley agility, Sun said.

What this means is Ike engineers aren’t focused just on quickly building out integrating self-driving software and sensors to get on the road. Instead, the company says it’s laser-focused on a systems-based philosophy. Ike is working on determining the design and architecture first before laying the foundation — to use a comparison to building a home.

It’s focused on an entire system that accounts for everything in the self-driving truck, from its wire harnesses, alternator and steering column to durable sensors designed for the highway, computer vision and deep learning that allows it to see and understand its environment and make the proper decisions based on that information. That systems approach also includes proper validation before testing on public roads.

This will likely mean Ike’s self-driving trucks will launch after others. But its founders believe that when they do hit the road at scale, it will be a validated and valuable product that won’t need constant tweaks or even a pivot.

There are trade-offs between all of these functional areas, Sun noted. “That’s why we need to get it right from a systems perspective and not over-rely on any one view.”

The heads down, systems approach is a reflection of broader changes within the industry, which has since sobered up. Many companies, even those “ahead” in the race to deploy autonomous vehicles, have discovered the problem is harder than expected. The days of time-lapsed self-driving videos, demos and bold claims have largely been replaced with a quieter let’s-get-to-work-now approach.

Ike’s plan for trucks

Ike, which is named after President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the U.S. interstate system he helped create when he signed the Federal Aid Highway Act, is trying to build a system that allows trucks to drive safely and reliably on the highway without a human driver.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for human drivers under Ike’s model. The company intends for its trucks to only drive autonomously on highways. From there, human truck drivers would move the loads between the highways.

Ike stands apart from other self-driving truck startups in other ways too, namely its decision to license autonomous delivery company Nuro’s vehicle software stack. The copy of Nuro’s autonomous vehicle stack was a “hard fork,” Woodrow explained, meaning Ike doesn’t have an ongoing technical connection with the company. Nuro does have a minority stake in Ike.

Instead, Ike gained a copy of relevant items (and the IP rights to it) that Nuro built, including some hardware designs, the autonomous software stack and the core infrastructure, which includes data logging, maps and simulation.

“We’re making a lot of progress today on hardware, software, systems engineering without driving trucks on the road,” Woodrow said. “That’s partly because of the team we’ve assembled, but it’s also due to the licensing agreement with Nuro that has given us a set of really robust tools.”

Ike won’t be staying off the roads for long. The company is planning to begin testing its self-driving trucks (with human safety drivers behind the wheel) on public roads this year.

Still, Ike’s founders aren’t set, or even focused yet, on where it will first deploy commercially.

“Because our road map is measured in years, we’ve got some time to get that right,” Woodrow said.

More TechCrunch

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

Consumer demand for the latest AI technology is heating up. The launch of OpenAI’s latest flagship model, GPT-4o, has now driven the company’s biggest-ever spike in revenue on mobile, despite…

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

24 hours ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

3 days ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

3 days ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake