GM invests in self-driving software developer

General Motors and Japan’s Softbank are among the latest investors in Nauto, a Silicon Valley start-up developing software for self-driving vehicles.

Nauto, based in Palo Alto, this week closed a $159 million (€138m) Series B funding round, led by Softbank and venture capital firm Greylock Partners. Previous investors include BMW, Toyota and insurer Allianz.

Nauto is unusual in attracting money from big-name carmakers, and also in its focus on software and data, which cost less to develop than hardware or entire vehicles.

“Any (vehicle) manufacturer is better than any start-up at building cars,” said founder and chief executive Stefan Heck. “Our aim is to provide the data, intelligence and a cloud platform” to carmakers that plan to begin putting self-driving cars on the road from 2020.

The amount of GM’s investment in Nauto was not disclosed. The Detroit carmaker bought Silicon Valley start-up Cruise Automation in early 2016 for more than $500m (€434m.)

Mr Heck declined to specify the company’s post-funding valuation. He did say it was shy of $1bn (€868m), “unicorn” status in Silicon Valley shorthand.

“But we’re getting there,” he said.

To develop its technology, Nauto is retrofitting windshields of commercial trucks from North America to Europe and Japan with dual cameras; one aimed at the road and the other at the driver. The goal is to gather data on driver distraction and on the environment around vehicles and speed development of self-driving technology.

Mr Heck declined to say how many vehicles are using Nauto’s cameras and software but said the company expects to accumulate more than one billion miles of real-world data within the next year.

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