Autonomous driving: Yandex pauses, Waymo cashes in and Kia teases Tesla
Russia’s Google Yandex pauses all operations in the US. Meanwhile, Waymo secures a new license and Kia aims to shake up the industry. The robo-car week in review.
The heinous events in Ukraine and the subsequent economic sanctions imposed on Russia are also impacting autonomous driving. Russian AI company Yandex is ending all operations in the U.S. until further notice.
Meanwhile, Waymo continues to collect licenses for its robo-taxis in California and Pony AI is beefing up financially. Once talked about as a contract manufacturer for a possible Apple Car, Kia now wants to enter the game as a Tesla competitor.
KIA announces its own autonomous driving system
Kia announced its roadmap for the next few years during an investor conference. According to the statement, the Hyundai subsidiary hopes to undergo a transformation to become a “provider of sustainable mobility solutions.” In 2030, sales of electric-powered vehicles are expected to rise to 1.2 million units. Three years before that, Kia wants to increase its portfolio to a total of 14 different e-models.
Some of these will also be equipped with Kia’s new technology for autonomous driving. “AutoMode” is to be introduced in EV9 e-SUVs in 2023 and then continuously improved via over-the-air updates. In the long term, Kia aims to achieve “full autonomous driving” and could thus become a competitor for Tesla’s Autopilot. Initially, the AutoMode will include, among other things, a “Highway Driving Pilot” that will enable autonomous highway driving without human intervention.
Last year, Kia was still being talked about as a contract manufacturer for a possible Apple Car. After some back and forth, however, rumors of negotiations between the iPhone maker and parent company Hyundai were officially denied.
Russian Google Yandex suspends tests in the U.S.
Russian tech company Yandex is pausing its autonomous driving tests in the US. Yandex conducts research in artificial intelligence and operates the Russian search engine of the same name. In the U.S. states of Michigan and Arizona, Yandex maintains robo-taxis and a test fleet of autonomous robots that carry goods on the sidewalk. Both projects are “paused” indefinitely.
The company hopes to resume operations in the future, a spokesperson told U.S. media. The suspension of the company’s activities is probably directly related to the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine and the economic sanctions imposed as a result.
Passenger transport company Uber sold its Russian cab business to Yandex in 2017 and holds a 29 percent stake in Yandex Taxi. After Russian troops invaded Ukraine, Uber announced it would accelerate the sale of its stake in the joint venture and removed all executives from the Yandex board. The sale of shares in Yandex Taxi was initiated back in August 2021.
Waymo gets permission for commercial robo-taxi service
Alphabet subsidiary Waymo will be allowed to charge customers of its autonomous driving robo-taxis. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued Waymo a license to operate in San Francisco last week. Unlike Cruise’s robo-taxi service, however, Waymo’s cab rides will require the presence of a safety driver.
Waymo has been operating an autonomous driving delivery service in San Francisco since November 2021, delivering goods to selected customers in cooperation with supermarket chain Albertson. The test phase of the robo-taxi service started in August last year, but has so far been limited to a small group of registered testers. In the coming weeks, Waymo plans to open it up to more interested parties and offer paid rides around the clock.
Pony.ai receives new funding
In addition to Waymo and Cruise, six other startups are testing driverless in California. One of them, until recently, was Pony AI. However, after an accident, the company lost its license until further notice. Financially, things still seem to be going well for the startup founded by former Baidu employees. On Sunday, Pony AI announced the receipt of new investor funds.
It said a Series D investment round brought its total valuation to $8.5 billion. Pony AI left open who the new backers are and how much funding was added specifically. Early last year, various backers pumped just under $100 million into the company, up from $267 million in November of the previous year.
Thus, Pony AI doubled its value within a year and was valued at over 5.3 billion US dollars in 2021 in the meantime. So far, the startup has received support from Toyota, Hyundai and Bosch, among others. In June 2021, Pony AI announced a possible IPO to fund the commercialization of its autonomous driving system.