Delphi has acquired self-driving car startup nuTonomy for $450 million as the auto parts supplier races to deploy the technology to its customers.
Under the deal, Delphi’s autonomous driving team will nearly double in size to about 200 people, including highly sought after engineers and scientists. NuTonomy, which was founded in 2013, will continued to be based in Boston. Once the transaction is complete, Delphi will have autonomous driving operations in Boston, Pittsburgh, Singapore, Santa Monica, and Silicon Valley.
Delphi will have 60 self-driving cars on the road across three continents by year-end, with the goal to further accelerate global fleet expansion and technology development, the company said Tuesday.
To industry insiders, the deal might be puzzling. After all, Delphi has been working on its own autonomous driving software created by Ottomatika, the Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company that was acquired by the supplier in 2015.
But Delphi chief technology officer Glen De Vos believes having both software stacks will help the company more quickly deploy a system that meets the auto industry’s safety and driving performance requirement.
Delphi also gains engineers and scientists with specific, and increasingly difficult-to-find expertise.
NuTonomy might only be four years old, but its two founders—Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli—are hardly newcomers. Iagnemma and Frazzoli were working on autonomous vehicle technology back when auto industry folks considered it a purely academic pursuit that wouldn’t be commercially feasible for decades. The pair are well-known in academic circles for their research in robotics and autonomous vehicles and were part of the MIT team that participated in DARPA’s autonomous vehicle research and development program the Urban Challenge in 2007.
NuTonomy was founded to develop software for autonomous passenger vehicles. While it’s primary aim was to deploy a self-driving taxi fleet service, the startup also worked with major automakers and suppliers to deploy automated driving features in cars.
The startup never had the same visibility as Google, Uber, or other tech firms and automakers pursuing self-driving cars. However, it became the first to deploy the first public trial of a self-driving car service. The company launched the pilot program in Singapore in August 2016.
NuTonomy was never interested in building cars or sensors; it’s a pure software play. So the company’s success has been largely tied to its ability to land partnerships with automakers and ride-hailing networks.
And the company hasn’t had a problem finding willing partners.
French carmaker Peugeot partnered in May with nuTonomy to test self-driving cars in Singapore. Under the partnership, nuTonomy’s software, sensors and computing platforms will be installed in Peugeot 3008 models as part of plans to develop the technology needed for large fleets of autonomous cars.
In June, Lyft announced a partnership with nuTonomy to bring autonomous vehicles into its network. The two companies are rolling out a limited pilot program in which Lyft users will be able to hail a self-driving car from the app.