February is proving to be a blockbuster month for investment in autonomous vehicle companies, with a total of US$1.639 billion being invested in the first half of the month.

Aside from the sheer volume, there are two other striking features to these investments.  First, they involve what is believed to be Amazon’s first investment in a firm directly involved in the development of autonomous cars.  Second, they include the first investment of Softbank’s Vision Funds following the sale of its stake in US chipmaker Nvidia.

Softbank’s Vision Fund invests in Nuro.ai

Softbank’s focus on autonomous driving technology has been clear for some time.  In June last year, its Vision Fund invested US$2.25 billion in Cruise, the self-driving arm of GM.  In October, it announced a joint venture with Toyota, MONET, focusing on autonomous mobility services (operations commenced on 1 February 2019).  Now, Softbank has placed another significant bet on autonomous driving technology by investing US$940 million in California-based robotics company Nuro.ai.

Nuro.ai’s work centres on robotic delivery systems.  Last year it entered into a partnership with US supermarket giant Kroger to use autonomous vehicles for delivering groceries (as previously reported here). That service was launched in Arizona in December 2018, using Nuro’s driverless (and passengerless) vehicle, the “R1”, which travels on public roads.

Nuro.ai’s experience with autonomous vehicles complements a number of Softbank’s existing investments, including online delivery services such as DoorDash and Zume Pizza in California.

The use of autonomous driving technology to tackle the challenge of “last mile delivery” is a growing trend and has become a focus for auto manufacturers, tech and consumer goods companies alike.

  • Walmart has worked with both Waymo and Ford on driverless grocery delivery services.
  • Ford has been conducting delivery test operations in Miami for approximately 12 months, completing more than 1,000 deliveries of consumer goods, including pizza (in partnership with Dominos), flowers and dry cleaning.
  • Toyota is working with companies including Amazon, Pizza Hut and 7-Eleven Japan on its “e-Palette” concept (see our report here).

Amazon invests in autonomous driving start-up Aurora Innovation

Aurora was formed in January 2017 and is headed by three individuals formerly of Google, Tesla and Uber.  The company is developing software packages for autonomous vehicles, and has already signed deals with Volkswagen and Hyundai.

Amazon’s investment forms part of Aurora’s second fundraising round, which totalled US$530 million (although Amazon’s share is not publically known).  Aurora now has a valuation of US$2.5 billion.

The announcement of Amazon’s investment follows its recent launch of Amazon Scout, a delivery service utilising small electric autonomous vehicles, which is being trialled in Washington, USA.

February 2019 autonomous vehicle funding

Company NameAmount (Millions $)Funding StageLead InvestorsDate
Aurora Innovation530Series BSequoia Capital, Amazon2/7/2019
Ike52Series ABain Capital Ventures2/5/2019
May Mobility22Series AMillennium New Horizons, Cyrus Capital Partners2/12/2019
Nuro.ai940Post-Series ASoftBank Vision Fund, Greylock Partners, Gaorong Capital2/11/2019
TuSimple95Series DSina Corp.2/13/2019

Source: The Robot Report

James Allsop
James Allsop
Senior Associate, Disputes, Tokyo
+81 3 5412 5409
Joel Halliday
Joel Halliday
Associate, Disputes, Tokyo
+81 3 5412 5426