A few bright spots remain in the self-driving vehicle industry, even amid macroeconomic headwinds that have nearly turned off the VC tap and led to further consolidation.
Helm.ai, a startup developing software designed for advanced driver assistance systems, autonomous driving and robotics, is one of them.
The Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup recently raised $31 million in a Series C round led by Freeman Group, just a year after securing $26 million in venture capital funding. This latest round, which included ACVC Partners, Amplo and strategic investors Honda Motor Co., Goodyear Ventures and Sungwoo Hitech, pushed Helm.ai’s valuation to $431 million.
Brandon Freeman, founder of the Freeman Group, joins Helm.ai’s board of directors as part of the financing. The company has raised $78 millionnowadays.
Like so many other self-driving vehicle startups, Helm.ai was launched to advance technology with a fresh approach. Instead of sensors or computation, Helm.ai co-founders Tudor Achim and Vlad Voroninski aimed for software.
Helm.ai has developed software that can understand sensor data as well as a human – a goal not unlike others in the field. His approach is the remarkable part. Autonomous vehicle developers often rely on a combination of simulation and on-road testing, as well as oodles of datasets that have been annotated by humans, to train and improve the so-called “brain.” of the autonomous vehicle.
Helm.ai says it has developed software that can skip these steps, speeding up lead times and reducing costs; this reduced cost also makes it particularly useful for advanced driver assistance systems. The six-year-old startup uses an unsupervised learning approach to develop software capable of training neural networks without the need for large-scale fleet data, simulation or annotation. The software is also independent of all calculations and sensors used in the vehicle, allowing Helm.ai to address a diverse set of customers.
Helm.ai sells its software to various automotive OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers to help them “differentiate software with high-end ADAS and L4 solutions,” according to Voroninski.
“Strategically, we have known that our go-to-market strategy will focus on high-end ADAS for several years now; our strategy hasn’t changed at all based on recent events,” he said, referring to consolidation in the audiovisual industry. “I’ve basically been predicting for a number of years now that the vast majority of self-driving companies will fail to come to market due to outdated technology approaches and sub-par business models. That didn’t bother me. so by no means surprised.The self-driving market has generally not been successful in recent years due to all the misplaced hype.
Helm.ai has attracted a number of customers, although Voroninski said he couldn’t name the other customers due to nondisclosure agreements. Helm.ai previously revealed that Honda is a customer. The mathematician and former chief scientist at cybersecurity machine learning startup Sift Security said he has spent the past two years focusing on bringing technology to market and securing partnerships.
The recent funding will be used to add more staff to the 50-person workforce, R&D and building those business partnerships, he said.