Startups

Robotic Research raises $228M Series A to build out commercial autonomous offerings

Comment

robotic research off-road autonomous vehicle, the company raised $228 million series a to build out rr.ai for commercial applications
Image Credits: Robotic Research

Robotic Research, a self-driving technology company that has spent the last two decades developing on and off-road autonomous vehicles for the Department of Defense, raised a $228 million Series A round. The company will use the investment, which was led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2 and Enlightenment Capital, to build out the commercial side of its business.

Crescent Cove Advisors, Henry Crown and Company and Luminar, a lidar company, also participated in the investment.

RR.AI, as the company has branded its commercial arm, currently has its vehicle-agnostic autonomy kits, called AutoDrive, in about 150 heavy-duty transit buses, Class 8 trucks and yard trucks operating on roads across the United States, Canada, Australia, Europe and Saudi Arabia, according to Alberto Lacaze, CEO of Robotic Research. Now, it’s just a matter of scaling.

Robotic Research has historically automated trucks for the U.S. Army and Navy, operating in areas that aren’t mapped and don’t have GPS, good communications or lined roads. The company’s autonomy stack also adds sensors that commercial autonomous vehicles usually don’t use, such as stereo and structure for motion, a range imaging technique for estimating 3D structures from 2D image sequences, says Lacaze. As a result, RR thinks it has a leg up on competition that’s still afraid to operate self-driving trucks on roads with inclement weather.

“Most people think robotics is some magic piece of software,” Lacaze told TechCrunch. “The reality is that robotics is more like a stamp collection. You have to collect all these different edge cases where you need to be able to run on slippery roads and with dust and without being able to see the lines and so forth. We have collected lots and lots of stamps. To a certain degree, a common day for a military application is the edge case for a commercial application.”

RR.AI has already deployed its technology broadly, so this funding is specifically geared toward expanding and industrializing commercial applications, says Lacaze.

Last year, Robotic Research won a contract with the Connecticut Department of Transportation that would see three 40-foot electric buses automated and running on the CTfastrak corridor. The plan would be to scale that to an automated bus rapid transit line, bus platooning and precision docking. The buses operate at Level 4 capabilities, says Lacaze, but they will have human operators on board for safety. (SAE defines Level 4 autonomy as a system that does not require a human to intervene but can only operate under specific conditions.)

On the trucking side, RR.AI is working with sawmills in Canada to move logs, and says it will have a big U.S.-related announcement coming soon. The company will also be announcing an agriculture partnership in the coming months.

RR.AI’s go-to-market strategy is to focus on the “low-hanging fruits,” says Lacaze, or the areas where there are few regulations or easy regulations to work around.

“We’re very interested in working in areas where we can produce with the sensors at the cost they are now, and where we can generate profit,” said Lacaze, noting that sensors needed for self-driving operations like cameras, lidar and radar are still very expensive, so it makes sense to put them on larger, heavy-duty, longer-lasting vehicles so the cost of the sensors can amortize over time.

“We are probably the only company in autonomy that has been profitable since inception. And the reason we were able to do that is we have concentrated on smaller markets but in the meantime, they have provided revenue right now. We don’t have to wait until 2025 to deploy trucks, and that allows us to grow faster and collect miles faster.”

Operating in robotaxis in the future is not out of the question for RR.AI, says Lacaze. The company’s strategy is to wait for the regulatory environment to improve and the cost of sensors to decrease before pivoting into new verticals. But as RR.AI attempts to scale in its comfort industries, it might find that there simply aren’t enough vehicles on the market to work with.

“We are kind of dependent on the vehicle manufacturers to produce since we don’t produce our own vehicles,” said Lacaze. “We are very carefully turning every stone over to find vehicles that are available in areas where it makes sense from a regulatory standpoint to deploy right now.”

More TechCrunch

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

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

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its 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.

1 day 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