Posted on Monday, Jul 11th 2016
According to Business Insider, 10 million self-driving cars will be on the road by 2020. Several leading automakers like Mercedes, BMW, and Tesla are soon going to try to release self-driving cars (regulation permitting) and a driverless future may not be so distant. According to Boston Consulting Group, the global driverless car market is expected to reach $42 billion by 2025. Riding on this potential is self-driving car startup Zoox that recently joined the Billion Dollar Unicorn Club.
Palo Alto, California-based Zoox is a robotics company pioneering autonomous mobility. It is developing its own fully automated electric vehicle and the supporting ecosystem to bring the technology to market. It was founded in 2014 by CEO Tim Kentley-Klay and Jesse Levinson. Australian designer Tim comes from a background of animation and film post-production while Jesse Levinson had formerly led Stanford University’s self-driving car program and had worked with Sebastian Thrun, director of Google’s self-driving program.
The company gets its name from a type of plankton called zoox that survives on a symbiotic relationship. Zoox aims to embody the symbiotic relationship that should exist between man and machine. Tim believes driverless transportation is a way to make the world a more efficient and mobile place and advocates mobotics: robotics specialized in the art of mobility. It aims to provide the next generation of mobility-as-a-service in urban environments.
Zoox first announced its plans for a futuristic, roadster-style, fully autonomous vehicle at the 2013 LA Auto show. It is currently in stealth mode. It has more than 140 employees including several scientists from universities, over 50 engineers and professionals from Alphabet, electric-car maker Tesla, Apple, Nvidia, and NASA. It has recently expanded its board to include Laurie Yoler, the former president of Qualcomm Labs, and Dan Cooperman, the former general counsel for Apple Inc. and Oracle Corp.
Zoox is a privately held company in stealth mode and does not disclose its financials. But according to investment registration documents and WSJ, Zoox has spent about $15 million on operations in 2014 and 2015.
Zoox has raised $240 million in two rounds from investors including Blackbird Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson (DFJ), DFJ Growth, Lux Capital, Thomas Tull, and AID Partners Capital Holdings Ltd. Its latest Series A round in July 2016 for $200 million was at a valuation of $1 billion.
This valuation follows General Motors’ $1 billion acquisition of autonomous-driving startup Cruise Automation, which is estimated to be smaller than Zoox. Zoox is one of the 12 firms approved by the State Department of Motor Vehicles to test driverless cars on public roads. Other firms to receive such permits include Google’s Alphabet, Tesla, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Mercedes Benz. Zoox’s MaaS plans also pit it against car-sharing and ride-sharing firms like Uber and Lyft.
While a driverless car sounds fantastic in the face of increasing traffic snarls, safety is a huge challenge that Zoox and other competitors face. There are also numerous socio-economic issues that governments will need to sort through before they approve this technology to be commercialized broadly.
More investigation and analysis of Unicorn companies can be found in my latest Entrepreneur Journeys book, Billion Dollar Unicorns. Unicorns will also be discussed with some special guests during our 1M/1M Roundtable programs over the next few weeks. To be a part of the conversation, please register here. The term Unicorn was coined in a TechCrunch article by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures.
Photo credit: Oran Viriyincy /Flickr.com
This segment is a part in the series : Billion Dollar Unicorns
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