Self-driving car start-up’s first vehicle set to hit streets in 2018

NuTonomy, backed by Ford's chairman and the Singapore state, is looking for new investment as it moves towards bringing its self-driving vehicle to market in two years.

NuTonomy is set to bring its autonomous vehicle to the commercial market in two years. Yong Teck Lim / AP
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NuTonomy, a self-driving car start-up backed by Ford Motor chairman Bill Ford and Singapore’s government, is in discussions with potential investors for a new round of funding as it works toward a full commercial launch in 2018.

“We’ve had interest from every corner of the globe because it is really a global opportunity,” said the nuTonomy chief executive Karl Iagnemma. “The challenge is to find the right investors and make sure you’re aligned with groups who share your strategic vision.”

The new round, which is expected to close in the first half of 2017, will be “multiples” of the US$16 million nuTonomy raised in May, he said. Temasek, Singapore’s state investment company which has backed technology start-ups such as Airbnb and Didi Chuxing, is among the investors it has held discussions with in the past, he said.

Software companies and car makers are racing to build cars capable of driving without human intervention. NuTonomy, which was spun out of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, is based in Singapore and Cambridge, Massachusetts. The start-up unveiled an autonomous taxi pilot programme in Singapore in August, and has tied up with ride-hailing service Grab to expand the programme.

So far, nuTonomy has raised a total of about $20 m. Its backers include Highland Capital Partners and EDBI, the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board. Other backers are Fontinalis Partners, co-founded by Ford, Signal Ventures and Samsung Ventures. NuTonomy was founded in 2013 by Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, when they were researching robotics and intelligent vehicle technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“We basically woke up one day and realised the work we’ve been doing, our entire career, is now sitting at the centre of this massive global opportunity,” said Iagnemma, also an award-winning fiction author who has written about characters struggling to solve seemingly impossible scientific questions. “It would be crazy not to try to commercialise the technology and get it deployed as quickly as we can.”

NuTonomy has partnered with major automakers including Jaguar Land Rover. The start-up is also in talks with a number of cities, including London and Dubai, interested in deploying self-driving vehicles in the future. Its plan is to expand its service through Asia and the world, he said.

“The reality is that there will be multiple winners. We are confident that we will be one of those teams,” Iagnemma said.

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