Startups working on driverless cars fully may no longer attract the kind of nine-figure acquisition or funding offers that were prevalent just a few years ago. But there are still pockets within the broader automated vehicle technology sector that have captured the interest and investment of strategic investors.
"We're looking for solutions that can integrate into our own tool stack," Betty Bryant, a principal at Woven Capital, Toyota's growth fund, told TechCrunch. "So a company that can provide a menu of options or just provide a specific piece of the stack, instead of a full stack company," which Bryant says is "not really an attractive model or solution for OEMs anymore."
One such company Woven has strategically invested in is Foretellix, an Israeli startup that gives other companies the tools to verify autonomous vehicle technology at any level. This capability, says Bryant, is essential for safety validation so that companies can actually commercialize and scale everything from Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) to Level 4 autonomous technology.
(According to the Society of Automobile Engineers, Level 2 systems automate two primary functions -- maintaining speed and distance on a highway and keeping the vehicle in lane -- and still have a human driver in the loop at all times. Level 4 systems mean the vehicle can handle all aspects of driving in certain conditions without human intervention.)
Woven Capital, alongside Nvidia and Artofin VC, participated in the first closing of Foretellix's $43 million Series C, which was led by 83North.
Ziv Binyamini, CEO at Foretellix, said the company will use the funds to continue to invest in the deep technology needed to verify autonomy while hiring sales teams to help the company expand across more geographies. Foretellix already has around 150 employees spread across Israel, California, Detroit, Germany, Sweden, China and Japan.
"We need to beef it up because demand is growing significantly," Binyamini told TechCrunch.
At a high level, Foretellix's offerings can be boiled down to two core technologies: Scenario generation and big data analytics.
Every company building autonomous vehicle technology tests their systems in simulation against various scenarios geared toward finding edge cases. Foretellix's technology automatically generates "an unlimited number of variations of scenarios" that companies can use, according to Binyamini.
"We also complement that core technology with libraries of what we call content," he said. "Libraries of scenarios, libraries of KPIs. So if you're developing ADAS, we have libraries for all the dysfunctions like automatic emergency braking, for example. For each such dysfunction, we also have a library of all the relevant scenarios and associated KPIs or metrics."
Once a company tests a system, either virtually against generated scenarios or physically on real roads, they then have to analyze the results, which is the second core technology Foretellix offers.
Some of Foretellix's biggest customers are Daimler Trucks and Volvo Group, both of which are building autonomous trucks. The company also works closely with Nvidia by integrating into its Drive SIM platform, Nvidia's end-to-end simulation platform. Last September, Nvidia said Drive SIM got a new suite of AI tools to help test and develop self-driving vehicles.
"Nvidia is an infrastructure provider for the whole economy, from the hardware to the software to the simulator to a full software stack," said Binyamini. "Our solution is complementary to their offering because in the end, to build a full-blown autonomous system, you need to validate it. It's one of the biggest, probably the biggest remaining challenge, to get autonomy to commercial, scalable deployment."
In a similar vein, Bryant said Woven by Toyota (formerly Woven Planet) is partnering with Foretellix because the startup's solution complements Woven's technology in-house. The mobility technology subsidiary is working on both ADAS and L4 technology, according to Bryant.
"Foretellix has found an interesting niche area in the simulation space," said Bryant. "Foretellix is not a simulation company, but it's supporting simulation work. And I find that other players might be trying to work on building robust verification technology, but no one has quite the focus and depth of technology that Foretellix does."