Self-driving startup Qcraft on Friday announced it has closed a round of seed funding running into “dozens of millions of US dollars” led by investment firm IDG Capital.

Why it matters: The deal marks another round of investment fervor around Chinese autonomous vehicle (AV) companies, at a time when municipal governments are nurturing emerging technologies to shore up economic growth.

  • The Politburo Standing Committee, China’s top decision-making body, in March urged the acceleration of “new infrastructure” construction, an investment initiative focusing on 5G, data centers, and artificial intelligence, according to a China Central Television report.
  • Baidu, China’s Google, last month secured contracts from three local governments including southwestern municipality Chongqing for building cloud-based transport infrastructure such as data centers and fleet management systems to enhance AV testing on public roads.

Details: Qcraft has raised an undisclosed amount of funding in a seed round from a list of investment companies including IDG Capital and Vision Plus Capital, a Hangzhou-based venture capital firm formed by Eddie Wu, an Alibaba co-founder. The startup was founded in Silicon Valley and operates both in Beijing and California.

  • The AV startup, formed by four former Waymo engineers in March 2019, is developing AV simulation testing, which refers to a system solution that trains self-driving cars to deal with vast traffic scenarios, especially unusual cases, on a virtual road network.
  • Simulated testing is considered a safer, more scalable and cost-effective way to get self-driving cars on the roads. Google’s AV unit Waymo in November said it has logged more than 10 billion virtual miles with its simulation software, around 500 times that of actual miles driven on public roads.
  • Still, it requires collecting sufficient real-world data to develop an simulation system and effectively train vehicles. Co-founder Wang Kun told TechNode on Friday that the company is currently testing around 10 cars with Level 4 autonomy in China and the US, and hinted at more collaborations with industry players.
  • Wang spent three years at Waymo’s simulation team as a software engineer, before forming the company with CEO Yu Qian, a former tech lead at Google Map and Waymo, as well as Hou Cong and Da Fang, two engineers formerly with Waymo’s perception and motion planning teams, respectively.

Context: Qcraft is one of the several AV startups that has recently won a new war chest.

  • Space Tech, a Shanghai-based AV company, in Spetember announced an angel round of funding worth “dozens of millions of RMB” from undisclosed investors, reported Chinese media. Founder Ma Guanglin was a former senior manager of assisted driving system development at Tier-1 supplier Delphi.
  • The recent self-driving investments boosted confidence of worldwide investors. Pony.ai announced a $400 million funding round led by Toyota just a week before Waymo’s $2.25 billion deal, its first funding from external investors.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen