UK startup FiveAI to send data-gathering cars onto London roads

August 15, 2018 12:50
FiveAI, a UK-based driverless vehicle startup, has been given permission to conduct a 10-month trial to gather data on London's road conditions. Photo: FiveAI

UK driverless car startup FiveAI is launching its first on-street trial, sending out vehicles to gather information about London's roads in a months-long exercise ahead of the planned rollout of the autonomous vehicles.

FiveAI plans to create a shared driverless taxi service in Britain by 2019, a service aimed at commuters in the London outer boroughs of Bromley and Croydon.

It is putting five of its vehicles, sky-blue Ford Fusions laden with sensors, on the roads to collect information for the next 10 months about road conditions, the movement of pedestrians and various vehicles, and other variables, to help train its AI platform, TechCrunch reports.

Based in Bristol, FiveAI was co-founded by Stan Boland, Steve Allpress, John Redford, Ben Peters, and Simon Walker in 2015. It specializes in providing autonomous vehicle software for use in mobility service market and serves vehicle OEMs and transportation operators.

The startup has been testing its technology primarily in Bedfordshire, at the automotive testing center Milbrook Proving Ground.

The company aims to create a software and hardware stack which can be integrated into different vehicles. Its system requires a huge number of sensors and computing power, enabling the vehicles to navigate complex environments as they "see" and understand what is around them, and react accordingly, Business Insider noted in a report.

As a Europe-based tech startup, FiveAI claims it is gathering information in a way that is compliant with European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) Act, which came into effect on May 25. No individual would be identifiable from the images it captures through its cameras, according to the report.

Countries like the US, China, and Japan have opted to take the risk and prepare for autonomous vehicles, allowing these vehicles to be tested on public roads. Stan Boland, FiveAI's co-founder and chief executive, told Business Insider that Europe "is late" on the track. 

It's important that European governments recognize the future of driverless cars and clear a path for local tech firms specializing in this area, he said.

Waymo, the Google self-driving spinoff, has been testing its autonomous cars in the Phoenix area in the US for more than a year. But Boland believes FiveAI has the advantage to beat Waymo, Uber and other foreign competitors in driverless car efforts in Europe.

"In Europe, our cities are medieval and complicated, density is much higher, human behaviors are different. Our cities were built from villages... I think a European city is much harder than a US city," said Boland.

He believes US driverless tech peers would pick markets with less environmental and technical challenges, Business Insider reports.

According to Crunchbase data, FiveAI has raised US$37.7 million since founding, including US$18 million from a Series A round led by Lakestar last September, and a US$17 million grant from the UK government via the country’s StreetWise self-driving project.

TechCrunch notes that FiveAI is about to initiate a new round of funding. The capital raised will be used for expanding trials to more cities across Europe.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 15

Translation by Ben Ng with additional reporting

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Hong Kong Economic Journal