Autonomous driving startup Pony.ai (小马智行) just nabbed an A1 funding round worth $102 million led by ClearVue Partners and Eight Roads. The funding is set to speed up the commercialization of Pony.ai’s products, China Money Network reports.
In January 2018, Pony.ai received $112 million in Series A funding only one year after its inception. The round was led by Morningside Venture Capital and Legend Capital. The new round made the company enough to make it a serious contender in the sector anywhere in the world.
The two founders James Peng and Lou Tiancheng have backgrounds at both Baidu and Google’s autonomous driving projects. Pony.ai is based in California but considers itself a China-first company. It opened its Chinese headquarters in Guangzhou last October.
In an earlier interview with TechNode, Lou Tiancheng explained why the Chinese market is so important for them. According to Lou, self-driving will start from small areas to global just like mobile phones started off in the early 1990s—restricted to some areas.
“One of the tricky parts about autonomous driving is trying to understand the intention of other people. To understand the intention of someone else is much harder than image recognition. It’s even hard for human beings. The intention pattern in different countries can be completely different.”
Pony.ai is developing cars capable of Level 4 autonomous driving, or fully self-driving, with no human input. The company started testing its “robotaxis” on Nansha island in Guangzhou this February along with JingChi. JingChi is another Chinese autonomous vehicle startup founded by a former executive of Baidu but the startup’s relationship with the tech giant became shaky after Baidu accused it of stealing trade secrets.
Pony.ai announced a deal with Guangzhou Automotive Group (GAC), the country’s number two car maker, in February. The latest news from the company is that it received a license to test its autonomous vehicles in Beijing.