Pony.ai today announced it’ll team up with Toyota, the Japanese auto giant with a roughly 9% share of the global car market, to explore “safe” mobility services involving driverless technology across a range of segments and industries. Specifically, the two companies say they’ll collaborate on a pilot program to “accelerate the development and deployment” of autonomous vehicles.
Toyota last year took the wraps off of a concept it’s calling e-Pallete, or fully-automated battery-powered electric cars designed for a range of “mobility-as-a-service” businesses. The carmaker intends to work with companies including Softbank, Amazon, Didi Chuxing, Mazda, and Pizza Hut to deploy shuttles that can be used to deliver food, offer onboard medical examinations, double as hotel rooms, and more.
Former Baidu chief architect James Peng cofounded Pony.ai in 2016 with Tiancheng Lou, who worked at Google X’s autonomous car project before it was spun off into Waymo. The pair aims to build level 4 autonomous cars — cars that can operate without human oversight under select conditions, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers — for “predictable” environments, such as industrial parks, college campuses, and small towns, with a tentative deployment window of 2-3 years from now.
Pony’s full-stack hardware platform, PonyAlpha, leverages lidars, radars, and cameras to keep tabs on obstacles within up to 200 meters of its self-driving cars. It serves as the foundation for the company’s fully autonomous trucks and freight delivery solution, which commenced testing on public roads in April, and it’s deployed in test cars within the city limits of Fremont, California and Beijing (in addition to Guangzhou).
Pony.ai is one of the few firms to have secured an autonomous vehicle testing license in Beijing. Stateside, in California, it’s obtained a robo-taxi operations permit.
Earlier this year, Pony.ai — which has tripled its headcount since January 2018 — attracted $50 million in pre-B financing from video game publisher Beijing Kunlun Wanwei, making it one of the most valuable autonomous driving startups in China. It previously raised $102 million from lead investors ClearVue Partners and Eight Roads (Fidelity International Limited’s investment arm), bringing its total raised to roughly $300 million and bringing its valuation to over $1 billion.