SoftBank led $500M funding in Didi in China’s largest autonomous driving spherical – TechCrunch


The race to automate automobiles on China’s roads is heating up. Didi, the Uber of China, introduced this week an outsized funding of over $500 million in its freshly minted autonomous driving subsidiary. Main the spherical — the only largest fundraising spherical in China’s autonomous driving sector — is its present investor Softbank, the Japanese telecom big and startup benefactor that has additionally backed Uber.

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The proceeds got here via Softbank’s second Vision Fund, which was reportedly lagging in fundraising as its Fund I recorded massive losses partly because of the collapsing valuation of WeWork.

As China’s largest ride-hailing supplier with mountains of visitors information, Didi clearly has an higher hand in creating robotaxis, which may assist deal with driver scarcity in the long run. But it surely was comparatively late to the sector. In 2018, Didi ranked eighth in kilometers of autonomous driving assessments carried out in Beijing, far behind search big Baidu which accounted for over 90% of the whole mileage that yr.

It’s since performed aggressive catchup. Final August, it spun off its then three-year-old autonomous driving unit into an unbiased firm to concentrate on R&D, constructing partnerships alongside the worth chain, and selling the futuristic know-how to the federal government. The crew now has a employees of 200 throughout its China and U.S. workplaces.

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As an trade observer instructed me, “robotaxis will change into a actuality solely when you’ve gotten the required operational abilities, know-how and authorities assist all in place.”

Didi is most well-known for its operational effectivity, as facilitating secure and nice rides between drivers and passengers is not any small feat. The corporate’s management hails from Alibaba’s legendary business-to-business gross sales crew, also called the “Alibaba Iron Military” for its capability in on-the-ground operation.

On the tech entrance, the subsidiary is headed by chief government Zhang Bo, a Baidu veteran, and chief know-how officer Wei Junqing, who joined final yr from self-driving software program firm Aptiv.

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The autonomous phase can even profit from Didi’s all-encompassing attain within the mobility trade. As an example, it’s working to leverage the father or mother firm’s good charging networks, fleet upkeep service and insurance coverage applications for autonomous fleets.

The recent capital will allow Didi’s autonomous enterprise to enhance security — an space that became a focal point of the company after two lethal accidents — and effectivity via conducting R&D and highway assessments. The financing may also permit it to deepen trade cooperation and speed up the deployment of robotaxi providers in China and overseas.

Over time, Didi has turned to conventional carmakers for synergies in what it dubs the “D-Alliance,” which counts greater than 31 companions. It has utilized autonomous driving know-how to automobiles from Lincoln, Nissan, Volvo, BYD, to call a couple of.

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Didi has secured open-road testing licenses in three main cities in China in addition to California. It said final August that it aimed to start selecting up ride-hailing passengers with autonomous automobiles in Shanghai in a couple of months’ time. It’s accrued 300,000 kilometers of highway assessments in China and the U.S. as of final August.

The headline of this text was corrected on Could 29, 2020.

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