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MIT’s nuTonomy: Winning the Driverless Race

MIT’s NuTonomy team recently secured $3.6M to develop “the world’s smartest autonomous vehicle.” (Photo credit: NuTonomy)

nuTonomy Inc., a small MIT spinout that has developed advanced software for autonomous vehicles, announced recently that it had closed a $3.6M seed funding round, with investments from Signal Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Fontinalis Partners and Dr. Steven LaValle. The funding will help support nuTonomy’s continued work in the U.S. as well as in Singapore, where industry and government are jointly piloting autonomous vehicle technology.

“nuTonomy’s vision is to deliver the world’s smartest autonomous vehicle and be the software engine of automated cars,” said Karl Iagnemma, CEO and co-founder of nuTonomy. (Dr. Iagnemma is a principal research scientist in the Mechanical Engineering Department at MIT and the director of MIT’s Robotic Mobility Group.) “By applying advanced techniques from the aerospace industry, we’re creating a self-driving car that is safe, confident, and drives in a truly ‘human-like’ manner.” The team’s software is currently being integrated and tested by automotive partners in both the U.S. and Europe, with the goal of deploying self-driving features within the next few years.

While the “driverless race” to develop self-driving taxis has been underway among tech giants including Google, Uber, and Tesla, MIT’s team entered the race virtually unnoticed. The team has been developing a fleet of driverless taxis in Singapore as a convenient form of public transportation. Their taxis follow optimal paths for picking up and dropping off passengers to reduce traffic congestion. And without drivers, they will be cheaper than taxis. The cars are electric, producing lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions than conventional vehicles.

“This could make car-sharing something that is almost as convenient as having your own private car, but with the accessibility and cost of public transit,” says nuTonomy co-founder and chief technology officer Emilio Frazzoli. (Dr. Frazzoli is Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics with the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems and the Operations Research Center at MIT.)

Dr. Frazzoli helped develop and test driverless golf carts in a Singaporean public garden through SMART, and teamed up with Dr. Iagnemma on other autonomous-vehicle projects. Both have spent years lecturing to researchers and automakers the world over about the benefits of driverless cars. “But no one was paying attention,” Frazzoli says. “So we figured we need to [develop driverless cars] ourselves.”