Transportation

New Alliance Ramps Up Self-Driving Car Race

Delphi Automotive has purchased Boston-based NuTonomy, adding a new strand to the growing autonomous vehicle web.

by Carolyn Said, San Francisco Chronicle / October 25, 2017

(TNS) -- Self-driving cars are still at an early stage, but the industry is rapidly shaking out. In the latest alliance, Delphi Automotive, one of the world’s largest auto-parts suppliers, on Tuesday said it would pay $450 million for NuTonomy, a small Boston company that makes software for self-driving cars.

“This will allow us to accelerate,” NuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma said in an interview. “Delphi has really strong vehicle engineering expertise; long-term relationships with the (carmakers) of the world; the ability to sell to every (carmaker) globally. When we thought about the best way to get our technology deployed at scale, we realized it was by partnering with a company like Delphi.”

Delphi, a public company spun out of General Motors and based in the United Kingdom, has more than 160,000 employees worldwide, including about 100 working on self-driving cars. That number will double with NuTonomy’s 110 employees, 70 of whom are scientists or engineers.

NuTonomy had raised $19.6 million in venture capital. “As a stand-alone company, you are always constrained by resources and the ability to fundraise, which takes a long time,” said Iagnemma, who co-founded NuTonomy in 2013 with fellow MIT robotics researcher Emilio Frazzoli. “Within Delphi we can focus on building technology.”

NuTonomy was the first to deploy autonomous ride-hailing cars for the public in September 2016 in Singapore along with Southeast Asian ride-hailing service Grab. It has about 20 self-driving cars there.

This year, NuTonomy and San Francisco ride-hailing service Lyft said they planned to test robot taxis with passengers in Boston soon, but they didn’t specify a target date.

“We’re still really excited about the work with Lyft, and it’s still part of the plan,” Iagnemma said. “We have to take a breath and think about timelines, but the engineering work is still ongoing.”

By the end of the year, Delphi and NuTonomy will have some 60 self-driving cars operating on three continents — a number that will rise to 150 by next year.

“For a global software system that has to work in a lot of difference places, not just one, the ability to collect data in different geographies is pretty powerful,” Iagnemma said.

Delphi chief technology officer Glen De Vos said he sees commercial vehicles, such as ride-hailing cars, as the obvious first deployment for self-driving technology — with consumer purchases of robot vehicles further down the road.

“While we were really happy with the assets that we have, we recognize that to win in the market, we need to move fast,” De Vos said on a conference call. “We’re getting larger fleets deployed earlier — we see that as a critical enabler.”

©2017 the San Francisco Chronicle Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.