AI, AV and the future of cars



May was an exciting month in the UK’s automotive industry. On the 7th, the London-based autonomous vehicle technology startup Wayve raised $1bn – the largest funding round of any European AI company – and two weeks later, a new bill was passed into law that could see self-driving cars on British roads by 2026.

There are plenty of reasons to be excited by this news.

First, Wayve is a true British success story. The startup, founded in a garage in 2017 and now based out of London’s Kings Cross, has raised its blockbuster Series C round from international investors including the software giant Microsoft, artificial intelligence chip-maker Nvidia, and the venture capitalist SoftBank. The round is rightly being hailed as a show of confidence in British AI capability, with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak saying that it “anchors the UK’s position as an AI superpower.”

“Wayve, founded in a garage in 2017 and now based out of London’s Kings Cross, has raised its blockbuster Series C round from international investors.” 

Second, the technology being deployed by Wayve is markedly new for the automotive sector. The startup has developed what it calls ‘embodied AI’ – a fresh approach to self-driving cars which applies the same principles of machine learning as ChatGPT. Unlike its global rivals, Wayve has focused its efforts on software – which can be integrated into many different car models – rather than vehicle manufacturing.

Where most AVs rely on super-detailed 3D maps and separate modules for sensing and planning, Wayve-powered vehicles interact with their surroundings in real time. Realised through six discreet cameras and a computer in the boot, Wayve’s AVs can recognise and learn from unpredictable movements, like pedestrian behaviour, and – just like human drivers – apply those learnings to improve how they navigate in the future. This type of technology looks set to be revolutionary for the industry – and is already being adopted by other AV players like Tesla.

“This type of technology looks set to be revolutionary for the industry – and is already being adopted by other AV players like Tesla.”

Third, the emergence of self-driving cars could have a game-changing impact on our wider consumer-facing sectors. For consumers, autonomous vehicles could dramatically shrink the need for car ownership. The average car or van in England is driven just 4% of the time – what would happen if we could just summon low-cost driverless taxis when you needed one? Especially for those in city environments.

In retail, we may well start seeing our groceries and other ecommerce purchases delivered by a fleet of autonomous vehicles. Indeed, in the past year or so, the likes of Ocado and Asda have both partnered with Wayve to trial driver-free grocery delivery. The technology could revolutionise how retailers and logistics providers navigate last-mile delivery processes.

Ocado van

At the moment, this feels a little way off. So far, the roll out and uptake of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles has not been as smooth as expected, in large part because of safety concerns from consumers. A 2023 survey of 2,000 US citizens conducted by Forbes Legal found that 93% are “concerned” about the safety or overall merits of self-driving technology. A further 61% reported that they would not trust a self-driving car with their loved ones or children. These concerns are not unfounded: in October last year, California suspended the licenses of General Motors-owned Cruise after a series of incidents involving its ‘robotaxis’, one which involved serious injury.

But it will be interesting to see how the next few years play out. If successful, the new generation of embodied AI-powered vehicles has the potential to, according to Wayve, “significantly reduce or even eliminate” the negative impacts of cars like road accidents and injuries.

“If successful, the new generation of embodied AI-powered vehicles has the potential to, according to Wayve, ‘significantly reduce or even eliminate’ the negative impacts of cars like road accidents and injuries.”

As for us, we’ll certainly be watching the space with interest. For the automotive industry, for AI capability and for our consumer sectors, there are certainly exciting times ahead.

moira.benigson@thembsgroup.co.uk | liana.osborne@thembsgroup.co.uk | @TheMBSGroup