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Self-driving truck startup Waabi wins Volvo VC as strategic investor • TechCrunch

Autonomous trucking startup Waabi has secured Volvo Group Venture Capital AB, the automaker’s VC arm, as a strategic investor. The companies are not disclosing the amount invested, nor many other details about the deal, but if Volvo is on board, Waabi will gain access to Volvo’s extensive industrial network and help the startup explore opportunities for large-scale commercialization.

“We’ve been extremely selective about who we bring on board as an investor, and now is the right time for Waabi to bring on a strategic OEM,” Waabi’s CEO and founder, Raquel Urtasun, told TechCrunch.

The partnership also symbolizes Volvo’s own commitment to self-driving trucks. Volvo Group has been exploring autonomous mobility solutions for years. Volvo had already developed in 2017 an autonomous concept truck that would be used for hub-to-hub freight transport – a model that Waabi is also pursuing. In 2019, the automaker Vera unveiled its autonomous, electric “truck” that looks more like a sports car with a trailer on it. The last we heard was that the Vera was being used in Sweden to move goods packed in freight trailers from a logistics center to a port terminal, in collaboration with logistics company DFDS. Volvo did not respond in time to provide an update.

More recently, Volvo partnered with Aurora Innovation, an autonomous vehicle technology startup, to co-develop autonomous semi-trucks, with the Aurora Driver technology stack integrated into the trucks, for the North American market.

“We represent for Volvo a reinforcing commitment to self-driving trucks, as well as their understanding that there is next-generation technology and they want to be the leader of next-generation technology,” said Urtasun, nodding to Waabi’s AI-first and simulation- heavy approach to autonomy. “They want to be part of that story.”

The investment, which is an extension of Waabi’s $83.5 million Series A that was led by Khosla Ventures, comes a few months after the startup unveiled its first-generation trucks built specifically for OEM integration. That means that instead of adding cameras, lidar and other sensors to an already built truck, Waabi’s Driver – including software, sensors and computing power – is manufactured directly from the assembly line in the vehicle. The result for an onlooker is a smoother vehicle exterior – no bulky after-market sensor trims – that is easier to clean and maintain.

“We build deep partnerships with OEMs because we don’t believe in aftermarket installations,” said Urtasun. “So for us OEM partnerships are the most important partnerships.”

Urtasun questioned whether Volvo will indeed be a future manufacturing partner – although we suspect Volvo is – but she did say to stay tuned for news on that front in the next few months.

Waabi told TechCrunch that in addition to testing, training and teaching Waabi’s self-driving software, its simulator also helped the company design its next-gen truck by testing different sensor placements on a digital twin of the vehicle. By building and testing the truck in simulation, Waabi potentially avoided building and testing real vehicles for years, Urtasun said.

Aside from being able to speed up design and production at a fraction of the cost, Waabi’s simulator became a selling point for Volvo because of its safety applications, Urtasun said.

“When you say Volvo, everyone thinks of a symbol of safety, and that is where we are super aligned on our very differentiated approach to safety that Waabi offers,” said Urtasun. “Waabi is simulation-oriented, rather than deploying large test fleets, and that’s one of the things that Volvo really emphasizes in terms of their investment.”

Urtasun said OEM partners are also excited about Waabi’s ability to “scale from day one” thanks to the simulator.

“This is an important step on our way,” said Urtasun. “We’re in a very unique position in terms of the competitive landscape because we have a multi-year runway and we have a very streamlined approach, which means we can go super fast with a fraction of the cost and people.”

Waabi was founded in 2021 and the company already claims to have the most advanced simulator in the industry and a truck that looks like a next generation truck to most other companies operating today.

“What really defines Waabi is we saw the super capital intensive approach which is very slow, and instead we said we should build other technology so we can get there faster and in a much more scalable way,” Urtasun said.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Waabi’s promises of fast, low-cost scaling will actually materialize. The company has ground test vehicles, but has not yet announced commercial pilots with OEM or shipping partners.

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