author: Eric Walz
Autonomous driving startup Voyage has announced a $31 million Series B funding round. The latest funding round was led by Franklin Templeton, with significant participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures. The new funding bring to total amount raised by Voyage to $52 million.
Voyage spun out of online learing platform Udacity in 2017 and its co-founder is Oliver Cameron, who serves as the company’s CEO. Cameron led the development of Udacity’s self-driving car course and worked closely with Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Google self-driving car program.
We’re excited to continue working with Oliver Cameron and his world-class team at Voyage. They’ve shown us that they have the capability to quickly make self-driving, autonomous taxis in residential communities a reality, sooner than anyone would have thought.” said Sebastian Peck, Managing Director of Jaguar Land-Rover’s InMotion Ventures in a statement.
While most of the industry to focused on deploying self-driving cars in urban settings, Palo Alto-based Voyage is targeting retirement communities with its on-demand ride-hailing service using a fleet of autonomous vehicles.
Voyage is currently testing and refining its technology in central Florida at The Villages, the nation’s largest 55 and over retirement community. According to U.S. Census data released in March 2018, The Villages was the 10th in the annual list of fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States with over 125,000 residents.
Voyage is also operating at The Villages in San Jose, California, offering its on-demand transportation service to 4,000 residents. The San Jose community is Voyage’s first commercial partner.
Operating in private communities like The Villages allows Voyage to collect valuable driving data and improve and refine its autonomous driving technology in a much safer and more controlled environment than a busy city street.
At the same time, Voyage is also providing a valuable service to older residents of the communities, many of whom cannot not drive due to physical limitations. Village residents can summon a ride within the community with an easy to use iPhone app.
The Villages is also a gated community, with limited traffic and other obstacles a self-driving car must learn to deal with if operating in an urban setting. Many residents get around using only golf carts. Speed limit within the community is 25 mph, making it a safer place for Voyage perfect its self-driving vehicles before rolling them out at scale.
Voyage’s self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which are the same model Waymo uses, are outfitted with a suite of senors, including cameras, lidar and radar to operate autonomously. Right now there is safety driver behind the wheel to monitor the vehicle. The driver assists passengers with getting into and out of the vehicle, if needed.
Cameron wrote in a blog post that over the past two years Voyage’s engineering team has made significant improvements in its autonomous vehicle software, including transitioning to a safety-critical and certifiable middleware. The company says its new prediction engine has over an 10x performance increase to detect objects such as pedestrians and cyclists.
Voyage also said it creating triple redundancy in its perception system for fail-safe operation. The perception system serves as the “eyes” of the vehicles and refining it for the highest degree of safety is top priority for the team at Voyage.
The company’s prediction engine uses a combination of advanced probability models, high-definition maps, and time-based behavior models to predict what’s happening around its vehicles.
Voyage said it will use the new funds to ready its self-driving technology for commercialization, grow its team of self-driving experts and expand its fleet of self-driving vehicles in California and Florida. Voyage plans an eventual expansion outside of these of gated communities into more complex environments.
Voyage is one of the most promising new startups coming out of Silicon Valley. Last year, Cameron was recognized by Forbes in its annual 30 Under 30 list, chronicling the most innovative entrepreneurs in the U.S. and Canada. The company has also made some high-profile hires as it grows.
In June 2018, Voyage announced it hired engineer Drew Gray as its new CTO and Director of Autonomy. Gray worked as engineering director at Uber ATG, as well as stints at Otto, Cruise and Tesla. The company also brought onboard Davide Bacchet from Tesla where he worked on the company’s Autopilot. Bacchet also worked on autonomous driving at EV startup NIO.
Voyage said it increased its total headcount by 300% since its first Series A in Jan 2018.
In a blog post on Medium, Cameron wrote “Our mission is to deliver on the promise of self-driving cars, and we are thrilled to be working with forward-thinking investors who deeply believe in that mission. Together with these new resources, we will deliver an autonomous ride-hailing service to customers who truly need it.”