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Hong Kong self-driving start-up in talks to raise HK$784 million funding

According to a recent report, a Hong Kong-based autonomous driving start-up is in talks with investors to raise a new round of funding to finance its research and development into self-driving cars.

The company said it is in talks with investors about a new round of financing, months after the company piloted autonomous grocery delivery services in San Jose, California, in August.

Last month, it received its first licence to test-drive self-driving cars in China. The start-up is understood to be looking to raise as much as US$100 million.

The fresh funds will enable the start-up to increase its fleet as tech companies race each other to teach machines how to master driving skills.

The start-up was founded in 2016 by Xiao Jianxiong who is a former assistant professor of Princeton University and an alumnus of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. He built the company to “democratise autonomy” and make driverless technology universally accessible.

The company has offices in both the US and China and recently moved its headquarters from Silicon Valley to Hong Kong. The start-up completed it’s A round of funding in 2017 and its investors include an investment venture of chip giant MediaTek and SAIC Capital, an investment arm of the state-owned Chinese carmaker.

It was noted that Hong Kong is home to a low tax as well as the innovative business environment, by the company’s founder in an interview at CES tech show in Las Vegas last week, where the company delivered burgers and fries by robo-car. The start-up aims to build a strong presence in the big bay area.

The start-up has been offering grocery delivery services in San Jose since August. After downloading an app, users can browse and order items such as vegetables and fruits and have them delivered to their home by a self-driving car.

It was noted that the delivery service would enable the start-up to avoid head-on competition with another self-driving technology development company, and it also comes with high profit, bringing about US$10 per order. A self-driving car can deliver an average of 20 orders per day.

Meanwhile, in China, the company is working with carmakers including SAIC and Dongfeng Motor as a technology provider, according to Xiao.

The start-up is among a brace of autonomous driving start-ups that have sprung up in China after the country made smart vehicles one of its key development areas.

Autonomous driving is an amalgamation of technology, combining advanced consumer and industrial technologies ranging from artificial intelligence and electrification to 5G mobile systems.

According to an earlier report, the self-driving car startup launched a grocery delivery and mobile store pilot, the first-ever of its kind in the San Francisco Bay Area.

It was noted that with the start-up’s affordable self-driving car delivery service, the same high-quality groceries can be offered directly to individual consumers at the same price, but with better delivery and shopping experiences.

After downloading the start-up’s app, users can browse and order items including fresh perishables, vegetables, fruits, etc. There is no need to worry about receiving wilted lettuce or less-than-fresh fruit because groceries will be well preserved in a temperature-controlled environment throughout their driverless ride over.

What sets the start-up’s system apart from the L4 autonomous driving crowd is its emphasis on inexpensive but high-resolution cameras as the primary sensor, rather than expensive LiDAR laser arrays and other costly sensors. The start-up’s high-resolution camera sensing enables the AI to safely detect small objects such as kids and pets, and see farther ahead for longer distance compared to other autonomous driving technologies that heavily rely on LiDAR.

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