Wayve, a UK startup applying artificial intelligence to mobile robotics, has raised a $20 million Series A round led by Eclipse Ventures, with participation from Balderton Capital, existing investors and several leaders in machine learning and robotics. The investment will help launch a pilot fleet of autonomous vehicles in central London; self-driving cars are the company’s first commercial application of its technology.

The company wants to power mobile robotics through AI and machine learning, rather than sensors and hand-coded rules. Co-founder and CEO Amar Shah explained, “As computational power and data continue to grow, learning-based approaches will become more inevitable, especially for mobile robotics. The human brain has evolved over millions of years, computers have only had a few decades, but are catching up quickly.”

With this approach to autonomous vehicles, self-driving cars could better navigate unfamiliar and difficult roads. In fact, this past spring, Wayve tested a self-driving car navigating on roads it had never been on before. The navigation was guided by cameras, a 2D map, and the startup’s end-to-end, deep learning “driving brain.”

“The average human learns to drive in just 50 hours with visual input primarily. Once we have learned, we are capable at driving on roads around the world despite vastly differing traffic laws and cultural context,” said Suranga Chandratillake, partner at Balderton Capital. “Wayve’s self-driving technology is the closest to this human approach to learning. The great advantage of solving the problem this way is that it is robust in the face of a global opportunity.”

Now the company will test its approach in one of the world’s busiest cities. Wayve will release a fleet of vehicles in central London for controlled trials; the start date was not disclosed.

Launched in Cambridge and currently based in London, Wayve reports it is the first European self-driving car company to snag a Silicon Valley VC to lead a Series A.

Seth Winterroth, partner at Palo Alto-based Eclipse Ventures, commented: “Wayve’s differentiated approach to autonomy builds on timely advances in the fields of reinforcement learning, simulation and computer vision. Furthermore, by locating the company in the UK, the team has access to an extraordinary talent pool and numerous complex testing environments.”

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