Palo Alto, CA — Autonomous vehicle technology start-up Nauto has closed a $12 million round of Series A funding led by Playground Global, the new hardware venture fund formed by Android creator Andy Rubin. In addition, advanced technology fund Draper Nexus and Index Ventures also participated in the round, which will fund development of NAUTO’s proprietary connected camera and cloud-based system aimed at making driving safer, easier and more efficient.
NAUTO is currently focused on the professional driver, fleet and insurance companies and is also working with automotive manufacturers to develop fleet and autonomous vehicle solutions based on NAUTO’s computer vision and machine learning technologies.
NAUTO’s team will relocate to Playground Global’s Design Studio in Palo Alto and the company’s technology, data science, computer vision and machine learning experts will collaborate with Playground’s team of engineers and designers, whose backgrounds hail from Apple, General Magic, Web TV and Android.
“We now have a Formula One-caliber team, and the financial, talent and resources that will speed our delivery and fine-tune the hardware and software powering NAUTO,” says NAUTO CEO, Dr. Stefan Heck. “The automotive world is undergoing a renaissance, but it’s getting as congested as Highway 101. We are creating a safer, smarter and congestion-free transportation system by using visual data, machine learning and hardware to design and build an onramp that will benefit the automotive industry, its supply chain and its consumers. With solid financing in place and access to Playground’s facilities and braintrust, we’ll get there even faster.”
“NAUTO’s approach to urban mobility not only makes driving safer, but changes the way we can think about transportation,” said Bruce Leak, co-founder at Playground, who is joining the NAUTO board. “With a combination of cameras and the cloud, NAUTO’s autonomous vehicle technology is constantly learning about the driver, commutes, traffic — all building a better driving environment. The team has perfectly executed on the hardware and software and the world’s roads will soon benefit from it.”
“Draper Nexus invests heavily in automation and believes in the autonomous future that NAUTO’s technology enables in the mobility and transportation space,” said Q Motiwala, Managing Director, Draper Nexus. “We think NAUTO is uniquely positioned because they are unlocking huge opportunities in the fleets and insurance verticals en route to realizing the bold vision of being the brain of the autonomous car. We were also impressed by the stellar team that Stefan has put together and the capabilities of our co-investor, Playground Global.”
Unlike vehicles using static dash cameras, a NAUTO-enabled vehicle becomes part of a network that is constantly learning how to reduce risks and make driving more efficient. NAUTO uses computer vision, GPS, vehicle sensors, and data from its smart cloud to prevent accidents before they happen. NAUTO can deliver instant notification of accidents and highlight close calls, allowing fleet managers to focus on urgent incidents and major driving performance issues rather than watching hours of video or learning of problem after the fact. And unlike telematics and UBI systems alone, NAUTO can flag driver distraction and near-misses that would otherwise be unseen.
- NAUTO gives the full, contextual picture and more accurate insights into driver behavior than current systems provide. NAUTO observes, learns and tags important visual data about potential driver distraction or safety events and uploads them to its smart cloud. Insurance underwriters can leverage NAUTO to more accurately assess risk and determine fault in accidents, while fleet management can use it to reduce liability exposure and to coach drivers on ways to improve.
- NAUTO does not distract drivers. Key incidents are automatically tagged and uploaded, so drivers don’t need to manually input data. NAUTO can deliver short term warnings, deliver feedback at the beginning and end of trips and provide coaching and feedback via apps tailored for fleet management companies and auto insurance carriers.
- NAUTO protects the privacy and security of drivers, passengers and fleets. NAUTO’s device automatically detects and uploads only specific information that is relevant for liability, driver safety and fleet operations and gives a full contextual picture (for example, not just that a collision or hard-braking event occurred, but why and how it happened), and only while the vehicle is under fleet operation. Under normal driving conditions, NAUTO does not identify passengers, drivers and other vehicles, and only retains sensitive data for a short period of time.
NAUTO was co-founded in 2015 by CEO Stefan Heck, Ph.D., a Stanford Consulting Professor and former McKinsey & Company senior partner, and CTO Frederick Soo Ph.D., a neuroscientist-turned hardware engineer and entrepreneur. Together they have recruited a team of data science and machine learning Ph.D’s, world class engineers, and industry veterans in insurance and livery fleet operations to bring NAUTO’s product to market. Dr. Heck was inspired to develop NAUTO after decades of advising some of the world’s biggest companies and governments on energy, innovation and resource economics.
The company launched a pilot with dozens of fleet companies in the San Francisco Bay Area last fall, and NAUTO-equipped vehicles began gathering and learning street and driving patterns in more than 23 cities around the world, from Bangalore and Vienna to Mexico City and Boston.