Last week, we were excited to announce our latest investment in Apex.AI alongside Volvo Group Venture Capital and HELLA Ventures. Sam Clifton, Associate at InMotion Ventures, explores why we invested in the company.
The DARPA Grand Challenge is often credited with reigniting academic and commercial interest in the autonomous vehicle (AV) space. Whilst the first AVs were developed in the 1980s, the following decade brought little progress beyond basic motorway driving and so in 2004, the Challenge was born. It was designed to push the limits of an AV, taking competitors off-road in the Mojave Desert and forcing them to think differently about solving fundamental problems. Many of the teams came from leading academic institutions, with Stanford, Carnegie Mellon and MIT all sending teams to the competition, yet in the first year, not a single vehicle navigated the course. In the years following, these projects became increasingly advanced, even finishing the course. Today, many of the leading AV companies can trace their roots back to the Challenge, with alumni such as Sebastian Thrun, Kyle Vogt and Chris Urmson going on to found Waymo, Cruise and Aurora respectively.
With the first AV companies born out of these projects, many of the software tools they used were from an academic environment and borrowed from other disciplines such as robotics. One such tool was the Robotic Operating System, ROS. This was developed in 2007 by a group of Stanford roboticists who wanted to remove the complexity of developing programs for robotics, allowing engineers to quickly build new programs and leave the plumbing, or software infrastructure, to them. ROS was quickly adopted by the industry and remains in use today by the vast majority of AV companies.
Over ten years later, the demands of the AV industry have changed dramatically. We now have AVs on public roads without safety drivers and operating in complex industrial settings. With AV companies increasingly under pressure to show the highest standards for safety they must transition from the research-grade tools of the past, such as ROS, to new tools that can deliver reliable and robust autonomy as well as meet international standards for automotive safety.
Apex.AI are building safe and certified autonomous software that is key to making the transition from research to the real world.
Apex.AI’s first product is Apex.OS, a software framework for autonomous systems. It abstracts the complexity of the hardware, middleware and other components into reliable, safe and secure APIs, simplifying the development process and letting AV developers focus on what differentiates them. By being based on ROS2, the successor to ROS, companies using the framework can easily transition to Apex.OS, benefitting from the platform and crucially becoming compliant with international standards for automotive safety.
As a building block for a safe autonomous future, it is imperative that these tools are adopted and we believe the industry leadership in the Apex.AI team best positions them to solve this problem. Jan Becker, CEO, brings over 20 years of autonomous vehicle development experience, in which time he has led Bosch’s autonomous development efforts and worked alongside Sebastian Thrun on the 2005 Stanford DARPA Grand Challenge team. Dejan Pangercic, CTO, is incredibly familiar with the current status quo, having been part of the ROS technical steering committee that developed the standard. With their vision and industry connectivity, they have assembled a truly world-class team of engineers to build this product.
We look forward to supporting the Apex.AI team in bringing this fundamental and critical part of the AV technology stack to market and making autonomy a reality. If you would like to be a part of a safe autonomous future, Apex.AI are hiring in Palo Alto and Munich. You can find out more at apex.ai/careers.
The emerging autonomous vehicle supply chain is an area in which we believe there is huge opportunity for investment and we look forward to announcing a number of other investments in this space soon. We’re always interested to speak to exciting and transformative companies within the space, so if you are a founder, or know a company in the space, please do get in touch with me or the InMotion Ventures team, either on LinkedIn or via firstname.lastname@example.org