June 2019 – Drive.ai received new life and renewed purpose just days before shutting its doors, thanks to Apple. The tech giant came in at the 11th-hour and purchased the self-driving startup most recently valued at $200 million. A state regulatory filing attested to the startup’s closing, first reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. Rumors about an Apple purchase of Drive.ai began circulating a few weeks before summer.
Apple now owns Drive.ai assets, including its fleet of autonomous cars as well as the startup’s engineers and select staff. It’s the last independent transition for a once-promising company founded in 2015 by former Stanford University graduate students working in Andrew Ng’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. Drive.ai garnered particular car industry buzz from jump with its initial focus on intelligent communications systems and self-driving systems that later extended to business and commercial self-driving retrofitted kits.
A startup fleet collaboration with Nissan resulted in vibrant orange Nissan NV200s. The fleet members showcased exterior LED screens that displayed messages alerting nearby pedestrians to the vehicle’s intentions: “exiting,” “entering,” “waiting” and “going.” The LED screen locations on the Nissan NV200’s hood, front tires and rear effectively commanded attention. So did the words “self-driving vehicle” and a wavy blue stripe emblazoning the NV200’s profile.
The fleet’s auspicious debut snatched headlines in 2018 when videos surfaced of NV200 self-driving cars smoothly negotiating private streets and common intersections in Frisco, a test entailing fixed routes and no human safety drivers. Previously, Drive.ai released video of self-driving Lincoln MKZs cruising deftly through Mountain View streets on a dark, rainy night.
Despite a handful of highly publicized, successful Drive.ai road tests, fully realized, safe, marketable self-driving technology still seems decades in the making to many. Thus, Apple’s acquisition of Drive.ai is as much an investment in company talent as in the inherent potential of the corresponding tech. Apple may also intend to align Drive.ai tech with Project Titan, currently its own autonomous vehicle company.