GM, BMW and Toyota back AI company Nauto

Jim Lynch, and Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

Nauto, a Silicon Valley company focusing on artificial intelligence for self-driving cars, has lined up some powerful financial backers that include General Motors, Toyota and BMW.

The two-year-old company’s latest round of financing has produced commitments of $159 million. That funding, announced Wednesday, will bolster the company’s effort on its retrofit safety and networking system into more vehicles around the globe. In addition, the company will expand its data collection platform for autonomous vehicles.

By hard-wiring a device to the windshield of a vehicle, Nauto can capture data from both inside and outside a car. It comes from sensors as well as cameras that are aimed inside and outside the vehicle. So at the same time the device’s cameras capture, say, a pedestrian running into the path of the car, they also capture the reactions of drivers and passengers.

It all becomes data that is sent to the “cloud.” Insurance companies would be able to use the information to adjust premiums or address accident claims. Companies working on autonomous vehicles can utilize the data to design and fine-tune sensing systems.

The technology is currently aimed primarily at fleet vehicles such as ride-sharing services. Company officials said the equipment is currently in “dozens” of fleets already in the U.S. A spokesperson said data generated by Nauto’s system can be used to create incentives in fleets for good driving and even help establish incentives.

Nauto’s ability to retrofit older models with its technology leaves the door open to all kinds of uses down the road. Individual units cost roughly $500, and users are required to pay a data subscription fee.

“It’s automatically detecting anomalous and interesting activity,” said Jeanne Meyer, a Nauto spokesperson. “If it detects something that’s a little unusual, it’s going to tape that and send it up to the cloud.”

BMW’s iVentures, General Motors Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures are the heavy-hitters from the auto industry that have previously backed Nauto.

GM confirmed Wednesday it has invested in Nauto in its recent fund-raising round and previously, but spokesman Alan Adler declined to provide details on how much funding it has provided.

Nauto is one of dozens of companies that GM Ventures, the automaker’s venture-capital arm, has invested in.

Other big names include venture capital firm Greylock Partners and a subsidiary of Japanese telecommunications company Softbank Group Corp.

“At a time when traffic fatalities are climbing and distracted driving causes more than half of all crashes, we’re tackling that problem by putting Nauto’s safety features into more commercial fleet vehicles — from trucks and vans to buses and passenger cars — to warn drivers and coach them on how to stay focused,” Nauto founder and CEO Stefan Heck said in a press release.

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