It’s a measure of the current frenzy surrounding self-driving cars that a year-old startup can haul in more than $100 million in its first fundraising round.
Pony.ai reported Jan. 15 that it raised $112 million to develop autonomous vehicles. The company — with offices in Fremont and Guangzhou, China — already has test cars prowling Bay Area streets and plans to begin running an autonomous fleet in Guangzhou in the next three months.
Pony.ai’s substantial fundraising round, led by Morningside Venture Capital and Legend Capital, also may have something to do with the startup’s pedigree.
Co-founders James Peng and Tiancheng Lou both spent time at Google before moving to the Internet search giant’s Chinese competitor, Baidu. Peng, Pony.ai’s CEO, oversaw the direction of Baidu’s self-driving car division. Lou, who worked on autonomous vehicles at both Baidu and Google, is now Pony.ai’s chief technology officer.
Their startup is developing level-four autonomous technology, meaning the vehicle can handle an entire trip driving on its own but still offers controls for humans. In addition to tests in California, Pony.ai has also been running its cars in Guangzhou, near Hong Kong.
“The self-driving vehicle is an inevitable trend that will disrupt the transportation system,” said Wenji Jin, managing director of Legend Capital. “This market’s enormous potential makes its development opportunities and directions similarly vast.”
Sequoia China and IDG Capital, both of which provided seed funding for Pony.ai, also participated in the round. They were joined by Hongtai Capital, Legend Star, Puhua Capital, Polaris Capital, DCM Ventures, Comcast Ventures and Silicon Valley Future Capital.