15 Autonomous Vehicle Startups (2021)

by Josh Howarth - August 31, 2021

We’ve been hearing about the promise of autonomous vehicles for years. But the industry is finally moving closer and closer to mainstream utility. With a market size of $818B (as of 2019), some of the world’s brightest minds are focused on solving transportation issues that plague almost every country on earth.

McKinsey predicts that by 2030, vehicles that are fully autonomous will be able to operate “anywhere, anytime” with Level 5 technology, the highest standard of technology available.

Read on below for our list of the most innovative autonomous vehicle startups - from robotaxi startups to software companies - creating cutting-edge vehicle technology.

1. Motional

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5-year search growth: 88%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2013

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Funding: N/A

What they do: Motional behind the world’s first robotaxi pilot program. And, unlike many of the other startups on our list, have decided to focus solely on the robotaxi space as a company moving forward.

To date, Motional has provided over 100,000 self-driving rides with zero at-fault accidents on its record. They also boast a 98% five-star rating, much higher than human-driven ridesharing services, like Lyft or Uber (95% of riders give five stars on those platforms.)

2. Optimus Ride

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5-year search growth: 600%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2015

Location: Boston, Massachusetts

Funding: $76M (Series B)

What they do: Instead of trying to compete with larger players in the lucrative trucking and car space, Boston founded Optimus has its sights set squarely on campuses and small communities. Their core offering is a fully autonomous shuttle that can drop students off at their lecture hall or bring members of a gated community directly to the first hole on a golf course.

Their first commercial deployment was at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, dropping ferry passengers off to locations around Brooklyn. During the peak of Covid, Optimus dropped off over 6000 meals to Washington D.C. communities.

3. Nexar

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5-year search growth: 6400%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2015

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Funding: $96.5M (Private)

What they do: Nexar’s market-leading dash cams are part of their master plan to build the world’s first “safe driving network”. By linking their cameras with computer components that are already in cars today, Nexar believes they can reduce collisions and make driving safer for everyone. The Nexar app provides a single source of truth for events that take place on the road.

Nexar’s U.S. coverage is now more than 90% of freeways and more than 70 million miles every month across 1,000 cities.

4. May Mobility

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5-year search growth: 261%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2017

Location: Ann Arbor, Michigan

Funding: $83.6M (Series B)

What they do: Cities are May Mobility’s target market, with a portfolio of cities including Arlington, Ann Arbor, Hiroshima, Japan, Detroit, and Grand Rapids among their past and current clients. Sleek branding highlights their eco-friendly ethos and their unmistakable green and white shuttles ferrying passengers back and forth.

May’s product is simply a fleet of autonomous shuttles specifically designed to master complicated city roads. May has provided over 270,000 public rides around the world since its first route in 2019.

5. Momenta

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5-year search growth: 6000%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Beijing, China

Funding: $703.2M (Corporate Round)

What they do: Every year over 1,200,000 people die in traffic crashes around the world. Momenta’s mission is to save one million lives within ten years through their proprietary “brain” for autonomous vehicles that use machine learning to constantly improve.

6. WeRide

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5-year search growth: 45%

Search growth status: Peaked

Year founded: 2017

Location: San Francisco, California

Funding: $620M (Series C)

What they do: WeRide is the first company in the world to have driverless test permits for both America and China. During its first year of operation, over 147,000 trips were taken by more than 60,000 passengers in China. Riders can request a WeRide by using the Amap app, one of China’s most popular with over 140 million monthly users.

WeRide has secured funding from some of the world’s most respected auto brands, including Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi Alliance.

7. Argo AI

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5-year search growth: 650%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Funding: $3.6B (Corporate Round)

What they do: Argo, one of the most well-funded startups in the autonomous vehicle space, builds cloud infrastructure including maps, software, and hardware for a complete platform for self-driving cars.

Partnering with legacy carmakers like Volkswagen has allowed Argo to focus on perfecting the platform instead of worrying about car manufacturing. The company is testing out its platform in 7 of the most challenging driving cities in the world: Detroit, Munich, Miami, Palo Alto, Pittsburgh, D.C., and Austin.

8. Pony. AI

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5-year search growth: 99X+

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Fremont, California

Funding: $1.1B (Series C)

What they do: Like Argo, Pony’s built a full-stack software developer solely focused on autonomous vehicles from cars to trucks. The first to launch their robotaxi service in 2018, Pony has partnered with brands like Lexus, Hyundai, and Lincoln to pilot their unique tech. Different modules range from perception (advanced sensors) to planning and control (prepares for outlier events like a car accident in front of you).

By 2022, Pony.AI is aiming to have the first commercial robotaxi service in California.

9. Nuro

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5-year search growth: 162%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Mountain View, California

Funding: $1.5B (Series C)

What they do: Nuro achieved press and fanfare when it was announced they had the first deployment permit for autonomous vehicles in California. The funky-looking Nuro is purely a delivery vehicle, with brands like Domino’s Pizza, Chipotle, Kroger, and Walmart using the robotic vessels to make routine deliveries in neighborhoods or offices.

Here’s how it works: Users order delivery from their shop of choice, a Nuro vehicle is then loaded and heads towards the destination (with tracking available via the app), the customer walks out and grabs the order as soon as it arrives.

10. Otonomo

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5-year search growth: 1233%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2015

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Funding: $89M (Series C)

What they do: Helping out car OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) is an extremely lucrative business if you can crack it, and Israeli startup Otonomo seems to have done just that. Their cloud platform provides over 2.6B data points daily from more than 20 million vehicles, allowing a plethora of critical services to flourish powered by Otonomo.

Some of their common use cases are mapping, EV recharging, usage-based insurance, emergency services, parking and more.

11. Cortica

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5-year search growth: 0%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2007

Location: Tel Aviv, Israel

Funding: $69.4M (Series C)

What they do: Cortica has an interesting solution to the complex puzzle that is driving in the modern world. Their artificial intelligence mimics the brain of a mammal, enabling vehicles to learn, identify scenarios before they happen, and react to dangerous situations.

Although based in Tel Aviv, Cortica has over 100 employees worldwide with backgrounds in AI research as well as experience in Israel’s elite intelligence units that are world-renowned.

12. Hesai Technology

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5-year search growth: 750%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2014

Location: Shanghai, China

Funding: $605.2M (Series D)

What they do: Founded in 2014, Hesai develops LiDAR technology which measures distances by bouncing laser lights off surrounding objects. By measuring the time it takes light to travel, precise distances can be calculated instantly. Why does this matter? This technology powers autonomous driving vehicles, advanced robotics, and smart city tech.

Hesai has formed a deep partnership with Bosch, one of the world’s most respected auto parts manufacturers.

13. AEye

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5-year search growth: 1433%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2013

Location: Dublin, California

Funding: $89.1M (Debt Financing)

What they do: AEye boasts “military-grade performance” for autonomous vehicles. This makes sense considering founder Luis Dussan worked at Lockheed and Northrop Grumman designing targeting systems for military fighter jets.

Their iDar platform focuses on mimicking human perception for vehicles, delivering what they think is best in class sensor technology for self-driving cars. AEye is the recipient of a number of awards including Forbes’ AI 50 of America’s Most Promising Artificial Intelligence Companies and AutoSens’ Most Innovative Autonomous Driving Platform/

14. Navya

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5-year search growth: 1125%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2014

Location: Paris, France

Funding: $72.5M (Equity)

What they do: Navya is both a software and a hardware company, providing their proprietary Navya Drive software with 3 key modules: Perception, Decision, and Action. They’ve cleverly identified the opportunity to bring self-driving vehicles to a seldom thought about place: airports. Their autonomous bag tractor is a first, bringing luggage to airplanes without a driver.

They’ve already begun deploying their self-driving vehicles in innovative smaller cities across France like Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines.

15. Einride

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5-year search growth: 680%

Search growth status: Regular

Year founded: 2016

Location: Stockholm, Sweden

Funding: $152.3M (Series B)

What they do: Sweden’s EinRide is fresh off a massive $110M Series B funding round led by prestigious names like Soros Fund Management and Maersk Growth. Best known for their self-driving Einride Pod, Einride as a company is completely focused on freight hauling and trucking.

With a sleek, minimal website and clean branding, Einride resembles the Tesla of the freight and shipping world. They count clients like Michelin, Coca-Cola, Svenska, and the Port of Helsingborg among their early customers.

Conclusion

As you can see from our list, the amount of innovation happening worldwide in the autonomous space is staggering. From Shanghai to Stockholm to Ann Arbor, Michigan, leaders in engineering, computer science, and logistics are combining to pump out brilliant self-driving products.

Expect to see the industry grow around 60% year after year as regulators and cities get more comfortable with the idea of self-driving vehicles with proven track records.

These startups represent some of the most promising self-driving and software firms in the space. Keep an eye out on the roads around you. You just might see one of the vehicles driving past you sometime soon!

Written By
Josh Howarth
Co-founder of Exploding Topics.
548 Market St. Suite 95149
San Francisco, California
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