BMW i Ventures and Toyota AI Ventures, venture-capital arms of their respective automaking groups, are among the leading investors in the $11.5-million “seed investment” funding round for a Michigan-based startup developing low-speed, self-driving electric shuttle systems.
The startup is May Mobility, which has devised a package of autonomous vehicles to be used as point-to-point or circulating shuttles, such as for central business districts, parking complexes, or campuses. It was established last year by several automotive industry engineers and executives.
The selling point for the May Mobility concept is that it is close to commercialization. Its goal is to use currently available EV technology and end-to-end fleet management services, including vehicle maintenance and daily operation. The new funding will help to bring the technology to commercial reality later this year.
"We're seeing a lot of interest from municipalities and real estate developers," said May Mobility COO Alisyn Malek told CNBC. "We expect autonomous vehicles to inspire a lot more public-private partnerships in transportation."
Other autonomous vehicle ventures (including projects backed by General Motors, Tesla, Google, and Amazon) have objectives that may be described as more ambitious, involving wider areas of operation and more sophisticated guidance technologies, whereas May Mobility’s proposal is based on electric shuttle vehicles with a human monitor, moving on pre-mapped, 10-square-mile routes.
Last October, May Mobility conducted a pilot program for its shuttle system in Detroit, to its readiness road. It intends to expand its coverage to other cities in 2018.
"This team is looking at constraints a bit differently than the rest of the autonomous world," according to BMW i Ventures’ Uwe Higgen. "That's one reason we expect their shuttles will be in daily operation very soon."
Based in Silicon Valley, Toyota AI Ventures has invested in two robotics companies and a developer of mapping programs for self-driving vehicles and drones.
“Part of our mission is to understand where innovation is happening, tap into disruption in the market and acquire firsthand knowledge of those disruptive signals,” stated Toyota AI Ventures managing director Jim Adler.