UPDATED 21:21 EDT / JUNE 25 2019


Self-driving car consolidation: Apple buys Drive.ai, Uber snaps up Mighty AI

Consolidation in autonomous vehicle technology is accelerating.

Apple Inc. today acquired self-driving technology startup Drive.ai, while Uber Technologies Inc. said it has acquired Mighty AI Inc., a provider of training data that assists computer vision technology in autonomous vehicles.

The news that Apple Inc. has acquired Drive.ai came via Axios, which claimed confirmation from Apple directly. The price of the acquisition is not known, but the company last raised $15 million in venture capital funding in September 2017 on a valuation believed to be about $200 million.

Rumors that Drive.ai was looking for a buyer emerged in February with a report June 6 claiming that the company was in talks with Apple. Axios noted that the company had talked to multiple potential acquirers, but in the end only Apple was interested.

There’s some suggestion that the deal may have primarily been an “aquihire” for Apple, the iPhone maker purchasing the company to gain talent as opposed to having any particular interest in the company itself. If that’s the case, it’s likely that the acquisition price was significantly lower than the $200 million at which Drive.ai was last valued.

Earlier reports, led by the San Francisco Chronicle, claimed that Drive.ai was shutting down without being acquired. Although that appears not to be true, company operations are shutting down. Employees Apple wished to retain are moving to Apple, while remaining staff will be out of a job come Friday.

Founded in 2015 by former lab partners from Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, Drive.ai was building a platform that applies deep learning and artificial intelligence to deliver cost-efficient autonomous vehicle software. The company claimed that its “deep learning-first approach” allows its autonomous vehicles to rapidly learn new driving scenarios and routes “without tedious engineering effort,” allowing it to scale out more easily to new locations.

The company had raised $77 million in total prior to its acquisition by Apple. Investors included Grab Taxi, GGV Capital, HOF Capital, InnoSpring, Maniv Mobility, New Enterprise Associates, Northern Light Venture Capital and Oriza Ventures.

For Apple, the acquisition gives it skilled engineers that could be deployed in developing self-driving car technology. Alternatively, with backgrounds in artificial intelligence and other next-generation fields, the engineers could possibly be deployed elsewhere by Apple.

The current status of Apple’s self-driving car unit, named “Project Titan,” is currently unknown. After pivoting away from attempting to build its own self-driving vehicle to building tech for other vehicles in 2016, Apple laid off 190 employees from the unit in February.


Uber’s purchase of Mighty AI has been confirmed by both companies, though the terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Founded in 2014 and based in Seattle, Mighty AI creates digital labels for data collected by autonomous vehicle sensors that help developers train their computer vision algorithms to identify objects in the road.

“The team at Mighty AI has built technology to label at scale using the latest AI and user experience techniques,” Jon Thomason, vice president of software engineering for Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, said in a statement. “Training our AI at increasing pace is critical to scaling our self-driving technology, and I look forward to bringing Mighty AI’s technology together with our existing labeling automation expertise to help us move even faster.”

This acquisition isn’t an aquihire, but according to GeekWire, it involved Uber cherry-picking the important parts of Mighty AI, including its intellectual property, tooling, tech talent and labeling community. Those are all being transferred to Uber’s Seattle engineering office, with what’s left of the company shutting down.

Previous Mighty AI clients, which include Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., Accenture plc and Siemens AG, are said to have been informed of the closure.

Mighty AI had raised $27.3 million from investors that included GV (Google Ventures), Madrona Venture Group, New Enterprise Associates, Accenture, Intel Capital and Foundry Group. The company, which had previously been known as Spare5, was valued at $85 million as of its last round of funding in January 2017.


Both the Apple and Uber acquisitions represent further consolidation in the autonomous vehicle market that started in 2018, the peak of venture capital funding flowing into startups — billions of dollars’ worth. Yet some have scaled back their ambitious plans or run into technical issues.

“Many experts see self-driving cars as being years, if not decades, away from full deployment,” wrote Andrew J. Hawkins at The Verge. “Meanwhile, many of the bigger firms working on the technology are eyeing partnerships in the interest of spreading the enormous costs across many companies.”

Sometimes partnerships are best sealed with an acquisition, the powerful purchasing the meek.

With leading players in the market, such as General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Uber and Waymo LLC, now full of cash, and Apple alone with billions in the bank to spend, more acquisitions such as those of Drive.ai and Mighty AI should be expected in the months ahead.

Photo: Drive.ai; image: Mighty AI

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