Voyage raises $31 million to bring driverless taxis to communities – gpgmail


Voyage, the autonomous vehicle startup that spun out of Udacity, announced Thursday it has raised $31 million in a round led by Franklin Templeton.

Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures and Chevron Technology Ventures also participated in the round. The company, which operates a ride-hailing service in retirement communities using self-driving cars supported by human safety drivers, has raised a total of $52 million since launching in 2017. The new funding includes a $3 million convertible note.

Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron has big plans for the fresh injection of capital, including hiring and expanding its fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans, which always have a human safety driver behind the wheel.

Ultimately, the expanded G2 fleet and staff are just the means toward Cameron’s grander mission to turn Voyage into a truly driverless and profitable ride-hailing company.

“It’s not just about solving self-driving technology,” Cameron told gpgmail in a recent interview, explaining that a cost-effective vehicle designed to be driverless is the essential piece required to make this a profitable business.

The company is in the midst of a hiring campaign that Cameron hopes will take its 55-person staff to more than 150 over the next year. Voyage has had some success attracting high-profile people to fill executive-level positions, including CTO Drew Gray, who previously worked at Uber ATG, Otto, Cruise and Tesla, as well as former NIO and Tesla employee Davide Bacchet as director of autonomy.

Funds will also be used to increase its fleet of second-generation self-driving cars (called G2) that are currently being used in a 4,000-resident retirement community in San Jose, Calif., as well as The Villages, a 40-square-mile, 125,000-resident retirement city in Florida. Voyage’s G2 fleet has 12 vehicles. Cameron didn’t provide details on how many vehicles it will add to its G2 fleet, only describing it as a “nice jump that will allow us to serve consumers.”

Voyage used the G2 vehicles to create a template of sorts for its eventual driverless vehicle. This driverless product — a term Cameron has used in a previous post on Medium — will initially be limited to 25 miles per hour, which is the driving speed within the two retirement communities in which Voyage currently tests and operates. The vehicle might operate at a low speed, but they are capable of handling complex traffic interactions, he wrote.

“It won’t be the most cost-effective vehicle ever made because the industry still is in its infancy, but it will be a huge, huge, huge improvement over our G2 vehicle in terms of being be able to scale out a commercial service and make money on each ride,” Cameron said. 

Voyage initially used modified Ford Fusion vehicles to test its autonomous vehicle technology, then introduced in July 2018 Chrysler Pacifica minivans, its second generation of autonomous vehicles. But the end goal has always been a driverless product.

gpgmail previously reported that the company has partnered with an automaker to provide this next-generation vehicle that has been designed specifically for autonomous driving. Cameron wouldn’t name the automaker. The vehicle will be electric and it won’t be a retrofit like the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vehicles Voyage currently uses or its first-generation vehicle, a Ford Fusion.

Most importantly, and a detail Cameron did share with gpgmail, is that the vehicle it uses for its driverless service will have redundancies and safety-critical applications built into it.

Voyage also has deals in place with Enterprise rental cars and Intact insurance company to help it scale.

“You can imagine leasing is much more optimal than purchasing and owning vehicles on your balance sheet,” Cameron said. “We have those deals in place that will allow us to not only get the vehicle costs down, but other aspects of the vehicle into the right place as well.”


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Frontier technologies are moving closer to the center of venture investment – gpgmail


As the technologies that were once considered science fiction become the purview of science, the venture capital firms that were once investing at the industry’s fringes are now finding themselves at the heart of the technology industry.

Investing in the commercialization of technologies like genetic engineering, quantum computing, digital avatars, augmented reality, new human-computer interfaces, machine learning, autonomous vehicles, robots, and space travel that were once considered “frontier” investments are now front-and-center priorities for many venture capital firms and the limited partners that back them.

Earlier this month, Lux Capital raised $1.1 billion across two funds that invest in just these kinds of companies. “[Limited partners] are now more interested in frontier tech than ever before,” said Bilal Zuberi, a partner with the firm.

He sees a few factors encouraging limited partners (the investors who provide financing for venture capital funds) to invest in the firms that are financing companies developing technologies that were once considered outside of the mainstream.


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Inside Voyage’s plan to deliver a driverless future – gpgmail


In two years, Voyage has gone from a tiny self-driving car upstart spun out of Udacity to a company able to operate on 200 miles of roads in retirement communities.

Now, Voyage is on the verge of introducing a new vehicle that is critical to its mission of launching a truly driverless ride-hailing service. (Human safety drivers not included.)

This internal milestone, which Voyage CEO Oliver Cameron hinted at in a recent Medium post, went largely unnoticed. Voyage, after all, is just a 55-person speck of a startup in an industry, where the leading companies have amassed hundreds of engineers backed by war chests of $1 billion or more. Voyage has raised just $23.6 million from investors that include Khosla Ventures, CRV, Initialized Capital and the venture arm of Jaguar Land-Rover.

Still, the die has yet to be cast in this burgeoning industry of autonomous vehicle technology. These are the middle-school years for autonomous vehicles — a time when size can be misinterpreted for maturity and change occurs in unpredictable bursts.

The upshot? It’s still unclear which companies will solve the technical and business puzzles of autonomous vehicles. There will be companies that successfully launch robotaxis and still fail to turn their service into a profitable commercial enterprise. And there will be operationally savvy companies that fail to develop and validate the technology to a point where human drivers can be removed.

Voyage wants to unlock both.

Crowded field


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Impossible Foods goes to the grocery store – gpgmail


After receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration, Impossible Foods has cleared the last regulatory hurdle it faced to rolling out in grocery stores.

The company is targeting a September release of Impossible products on grocery store shelves, joining its competitor Beyond Meat on grocery store shelves.

The news comes as the company said it inked a major supply agreement with the OSI Group, a food processing company to increase the availability of its Impossible Burger.

Impossible Foods has been facing shortages of its product, which it can’t make fast enough to meet growing customer demand.

The supply constraints have been especially acute as the company inks more deals with fast food vendors like Burger King, White Castle, and Qdoba to supply its Impossible protein patty and ground meal to a growing number of outlets.

Impossible Foods products are now served in over 10,000 locations around the world.

Earlier this year, the company hired Dennis Woodside and Sheetal Shah to scale up its manufacturing operations and help manage its growth into international markets. The company began selling its product in Singapore earlier this summer.

May not only saw new executives joining the Impossible team, but a new capital infusion as well. Impossible Foods picked up $300 million in financing from investors including Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, Horizons Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital, and Open Philanthropy Project.

With the new FDA approval, Impossible Foods will now be able to go head to head with its chief rival, Beyond Meat. The regulatory approval will also help to dispel questions that have swirled around the safety of its innovative soy leghemoglobin that have persisted since the company began its expansion across the U.S.

Last July, the company received a no-questions letter from the FDA, which confirmed that the company’s heme was safe to eat, according to a panel of food-safety experts.

The remaining obstacle for the company, was whether or not the company’s “heme” could be considered a color additive. That approval — the use of heme as a color additive — is what the FDA announced today.

“We’ve been engaging with the FDA for half a decade to ensure that we are completely compliant with all food-safety regulations—for the Impossible Burger and for future products and sales channels,” said Impossible Foods Chief Legal Officer Dana Wagner. “We have deep respect for the FDA as champion of US food safety, and we’ve always gone above and beyond to comply with every food-safety regulation and to provide maximum transparency about our ingredients so that our customers can have 100% confidence in our product.”


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