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Alumnus Dr Alex Kendall accelerates the development of self-driving cars

Eight years after he founded the autonomous driving company Wayve, based on AI-technology he researched at Cambridge, alumnus Dr Alex Kendall has raised more than £1bn to accelerate the development of self-driving cars.

Founded in a Cambridge garage in 2017 with a mission to reimagine autonomous mobility with ‘embodied intelligence’, Wayve now has 250 employees in London, Silicon Valley and Vancouver who are developing self-driving cars that can see, think and drive in any environment.

NVIDIA and Microsoft are among Wayve’s investors; previously Microsoft founder Bill Gates took a test drive in a Wayve car. Dr Kendall said the £1bn+ investment was a pivotal moment for the company.

Since our inception, we have held a core belief that end-to-end AI will make autonomy possible. This has been a deeply contrarian approach against the rest of the market, and we are excited to see our progress and this funding as a massive endorsement of our vision.

A Wayve car being trialled on London’s roads. Currently, every Wayve vehicle has a safety operator ready to take control, as required by the UK’s Code of Practice for Automated Vehicle Trialling.

Alex grew up in South Island in New Zealand, where his sense of adventure led him to hike, bike and explore the rivers and beaches, meanwhile developing his scientific interests. ‘I developed a deep curiosity playing with science and technology, teaching myself how to solder circuits, code computer games and build drones. I was inspired by leading sportsmen/women’s achievements (like sailing and rugby) and the culture of innovation that I was exposed to in New Zealand,’ he said.

After a studying engineering at the University of Auckland, Alex won a Woolf Fisher Scholarship to Cambridge, where he completed his PhD in deep learning, computer vision and robotics, and then was elected a Junior Research Fellow at Trinity.

I loved spending time with startups like Skydio and Scape which got me excited about the potential of venture-backed growth,’ he said. ‘Ultimately I became convinced that end-to-end machine learning would become the future for robotics. This was a very contrarian idea at the time and laughed at by many … but led to the founding of Wayve.

Dr Kendall has received awards for his research and was featured in the Forbes 2020 30 Under 30 list.

While at Cambridge Dr Kendall achieved the world’s first ‘end-to-end deep learning driving’ on public roads in this prototype vehicle.

While autonomous vehicle (AV) technology has fast-forwarded in recent years, the ability to predict and navigate unpredictable road users and unexpected situations remains a major challenge for driver-less vehicle travel.

Wayve has sought to solve this problem with an end-to-end AI system that, unlike other AV technology reliant on sensors and maps, can learn from data it is given and apply that learning to other situations. This is crucial when no two journeys are the same and unexpected scenarios are integral to any driving experience.

This learning ability is known as generalisation: Wayve trials on UK roads have proved its autonomous vehicle learning model can generalise its knowledge to previously unseen cities and translate its experience from a car to a van.

‘Achieving the generalisation milestones of multi-city and multi-vehicle generalisation is an industry first,’ said Dr Kendall. It paves the way for commercialization of the technology to a range of vehicles and the provision of a safe automated driving experience for all.

Wayve aims to be the first AV tech company to deploy autonomous vehicles in 100 cities.

In the wake of the company’s investment announcement, Dr Kendall welcomed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Secretary of State for Science, Technology and Innovation Michelle Donelan to Wayve’s London HQ.

The Prime Minister said: ‘I’m incredibly proud that the UK is the home for pioneers like Wayve who are breaking ground as they develop the next generation of AI models for self-driving cars. The fact that a homegrown British business has secured the biggest investment yet in a UK AI company is a testament to our leadership in this industry and that our plan for the economy is working.’

The UK Government predicts the self-driving vehicle industry sector will be worth £42 billion and create 38,000 skilled jobs by 2035.

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