Tesla AI may be getting more competition from Toyota-backed Pony.ai, an autonomous driving company based in the United States and China. Similar to Tesla, Pony.ai seems to use real-world data for its self-driving software. While it has only accumulated only millions of kilometers of data thus far, Pony.ai’s foundation shows promise.
According to Reuters, Pony.ai raised $462 million in funding from Toyota and existing investors, who remain anonymous for now. Japan’s biggest automaker led the funding by contributing $400 million to the autonomous driving company.
Toyota values the company at $3 billion, reported The Verge, and it has been working with Pony.ai since 2019. The $400 million investment will reportedly go to the two companies venture into mobility services.
Pony.ai is based both in the United States and China. In the US, its central workplaces are in Silicon Valley and Irvine, Califonia. The autonomous driving firm also has headquarters in Beijing and Guangzhou. The former executive of Chinese tech company Baidu James Peng co-founded Pony.ai with Lou Tiancheng, who used to work at Google and Baidu as an engineer.
The AI-developing company has focused on level 4 autonomy, otherwise known as full self-driving, akin to Tesla’s FSD software. Level 4 will not require any human intervention while the vehicle is on the road.
Pony.ai deploys autonomous mobility pilots in the United States and China to gather data based on its official website. “We have launched autonomous mobility pilots in multiple cities across the US and China, serving hundreds of riders every day. These pilots have enabled us to build a strong technical and operational foundation to further expand and improve our service,” its site reads.
Alongside with Toyota, Pony.ai started a pilot program to test self-driving cars on the public streets of Shanghai and Beijing. However, the autonomous driving firm also works with other automakers like Hyundai and GAC.
Pony.ai’s partnerships with established carmakers like Toyota and other investments in companies like Uber ATG’s Robotaxi fleet could make it a promising competitor for Tesla. Although it still as a long way to go to match Tesla’s billions of miles worth of real-world data. However, Pony.ai’s foundation seems stable, and its direction appears to be steadfast.
Meanwhile, Toyota's investments in Pony.ai reveal that legacy automakers are aware of the future in autonomy. After all, the Japanese automaker isn't the only legacy car manufacturer who seems to be investing time and resources to autonomous features and "mobility services."
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