Pony.ai racing towards level four autonomous vehicles
China is a market leader in terms of electric cars but it’s just one of the emerging trends in the automotive world, autonomous technology is quickly transitioning from science fiction into state of the art science and Pony.ai is raising funds to push it closer to reality.
Companies around the world are developing autonomous technology, from car manufacturers like Tesla, large technology companies like Alphabet and numerous start ups.
One Chinese startup Pony.ai has recently raised $102 million in funding which pushed it past its rival Chinese AI startup Roadstart.ai which raised $128 million after Pony.ai raised $112 million in series A financing.
What is Pony.ai
Pony.ai is a Chinese level 4 autonomous vehicle startup, at present they have a HQ in Beijing, and two offices one in Fremont, California and another in Guangzhou, China which is going to be the new Chinese HQ in the future.
Founded December 2016 by Tiancheng Lou who previously worked on autonomous vehicles at Baidu and James Peng a programmer who worked at Google on its autonomous car program.
In its own words it “builds technology to enable smart and connected vehicles”. what they are aiming to do is create the “Safest, most reliable full stack software (From what I’ve seen this means software that both deals with internal and external hardware plus user facing functions, so front end and back end if I’m correct) solution for self driving vehicles”. Because of this software focus they are partnering with automakers to integrate their software solution into the automakers cars. This software first solution reduces the potential overheads and complexities that come with hardware development and lead to them being easily adopted by companies around the world but it is early days and information is scant.
What are Pony.ai achievements
Pony.ai is less than two years old so it’s achievements mirror that of many startups, a roster of qualified founders and management, a young staff of graduates from great universities and slick promotions of the company’s vision. Additionally after round A and B fund raising they are now worth nearly 1$ Billion dollars without selling a single software solution.
On the interesting side is Pony.ai partnership and deployment of semi-autonomous cars in Guangzhou.
Pony.ai aims to be the partner of choice for automakers, proving a solution for self driving technology so a big requirement for them is to create meaningful partnerships. The first partnership with an automaker achieve has been the GAC Group (Guangzhou Automotive Group Co) which is a large Chinese automotive company. In February 2018 Pony.ai and GAC Group signed a strategic agreement, this agreement focused on four key areas of cooperation, the first is to push for continued development of the operationalization for self driving, the development of the underlying technology, develop mobility and a capital partnership.
On top of the signing the agreement they announced the first autonomous ride-sharing fleet in China. Pony.ai claims that they are the first company to offer rides to the general public on public roads in China and that the attendees to the GAC Group event were able to experience a 2.8km route in the self driving car in Nansha, Guangzhou.
Although questions remain as it seems they run a limited route and we don’t know how open it is to the public, because most reports focus on the event and press event we have had no independent verification of claims.
The fund raising
Pony.ai claimed it raised 214 million USD in series A round fundraising. This puts Pony.ai ahead of roadstar.ai which surpassed it in its last funding round in China.
The 214 million USD fundraising round was lead by ClearVue Partners and Eight Roads(An investment arm of Fidelity International Limited).
Pony.ai which is only 2 years old is now claiming it’s valuation has reached near 1 Billion USD.
Pony.ai and the Chinese autonomous market
The Chinese government is pushing the development of a number of core technologies that it foresees as future cornerstones of the global economy in the future. The technology ranges from Renewable Energy, Battery technology, Quantum computing, Artificial Intelligence and Autonomous/connected vehicles.
So while China lags behind the USA in Autonomous vehicles technology, China is becoming a hotbed of development. Large technology companies like Baidu and Tencent have Autonomous vehicle projects and startups like Pony.ai and Roadstar.ai are pursing Autonomous vehicle technology.
The next consideration is how USA companies might interact with the Chinese market, while the Alphabet company Waymo has pedigree in autonomous technology development the Chinese market has one large roadblock.
Chinese government market protectionism has helped Chinese companies like CATL become global players while pushing out companies like Samsung SDI. Pony.ai COO Harry Hu said at a conference in Beijing “If foreign companies want to install autonomous driving systems in domestic cars, it might raise national security issues,” CNBC. This raises the question that the Chinese government might cultivate its domestic market while raising barriers or encouraging technological cross pollination between western companies and Chinese companies.
The Chinese Autonomous vehicle market is fast paced and murky world in which it can be hard to separate reality from hype.
Pony.ai is building up capital, personnel and has an interesting business model that might benefit it in the fast paced market that’s developing around the autonomous vehicles.
It is still to be seen how well they are able to compete in this competitive market. Although Pony.ai is a company to keep a eye on.