Billion-Dollar Babies #2: 9 Unicorn Startups in The Autonomous Mobility Industry

From Taxis to Food Haulage Carriers

According to the report, Autonomous Vehicle Market Size, Share & Trends Analysis Report By Application (Transportation, Defense), By Region (North & South America, Europe, APAC, MEA), And Segment Forecasts, 2021–2030, published by business consulting firm Grand View Research in March 2020, the global autonomous vehicle market is anticipated to expand at a CAGR of 63.1% from 2021 to 2030.

This is exciting news for the industry, because as more deep tech sectors prove their worth, and more startups and legacy automotive companies see the value in the technology applied, self-driving cars — or autonomous vehicles (AV) as some people like to call them — will start to be used a lot more, from taxis to food haulage carriers.

The good news is that autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification, and shared mobility (ACES) startups are already out there, many of them in existence for more than half a decade or more.

In line with the Billion-Dollar Babies Unicorn Startups series, the Deep Tech Insider will now highlight nine startups in the autonomous mobility sector whose valuation exceeds a billion dollars, making them fantastic unicorns.

1.Applied Intuition (Estimated valuation: $1.25B)

Applied Intuition, a provider of software infrastructure to safely develop, test, and deploy autonomous vehicles, was founded by Qasar Younis and Peter Ludwig in 2017. With a focus on simulation and analytics, the company delivers sophisticated infrastructure built for scale to accelerate its autonomous vehicle development.

With headquarters in Silicon Valley but with offices in Detroit, Tokyo, and Munich, Applied Intuition’s software and automotive experts recruited from several top tech companies such as Amazon, Waymo, Tesla, and GM, create a scenario where the company is well on its way in the autonomous vehicle sector.

“If you’re an engineer at a global OEM, let’s say you work at Hyundai in South Korea, it should be very easy for you to log in on day one and have access to tools. That’s not how it works for an automotive engineer today. It could be months before you have your engineering set up.”

 — Qasar Younis, co-founder Applied Intuition

As far as financials go, Applied Intuition has raised a total of $176.5 million in funding over 4 rounds, its latest a Series C round in October 2020. According to Forbes, the Sunnyvale-based startup reached a $1.25 billion valuation last year, making that gold standard unicorn status.

2.Argo AI (Estimated valuation: ~$7B)

With its Global Headquarters and Engineering & Development based in the steel city of Pittsburgh, Argo AI was founded by roboticists Bryan Salesky and Peter Rander in 2016. The startup’s self-driving technology platform — developed alongside leading automakers — will deliver a fully integrated self-driving system that makes getting around cities safe, easy, and enjoyable for all.

Incredibly last month reports in the press allege Argo AI is working with investment bankers to prepare for it to go public, with a valuation expected to top $7 billion.

In total, the startup has raised a total of $3.6 billion in funding over two rounds, with Volkswagen Group and Ford Motor the most recent investors in the autonomous vehicle company.

3.Aurora (Estimated valuation: $11B)

Aurora was founded by experts in the self-driving industry Chris Urmson (the former chief technology officer of Google/Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving team, which became known as Waymo), Sterling Anderson and Drew Bagnell in 2017. Like Argo AI, it is based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, as well as having offices in Mountain View, California.

The startup’s founding team’s extensive experience in robotics and AI, bolstered by its partners’ skill in manufacturing high-quality vehicles at scale to build self-driving technology you can trust, has created a company whose hardware and software solutions are set to revolutionize mobility while making it safer and more efficient to move people and goods wherever they need to go.

Last month, it was announced that Aurora plans to go public through a SPAC deal with an initial value of $11 billion. The deal, along with special purpose acquisition company Reinvent Technology Partners, is expected to finalize sometime this year, with the merged company being set up with $2.5 billion in cash.

Aurora has raised a total of $1.1 billion in funding over five rounds since 2018, its latest — a Corporate Round in 2020 —  raising $400 million and led by Uber.

4.Cruise (Estimated valuation: ~$30B)

Founded in San Francisco in 2013 by Kyle Vogt and Dan Kan, Cruise — which is a General Motors’ majority-owned self-driving vehicle startup — is building the world’s most advanced autonomous vehicles to safely connect people with the places, things, and experiences. The company’s all-electric, self-driving ride-hail service fleet will offer more freedom, more time, and more peace of mind for drivers.

Taxis without taxi drivers. Cool.

In late 2020, Walmart and Cruise launched a pilot scheme to deliver orders of self-driving cars to Scottsdale, Arizona.

All this has been made possible by Cruise’s novel technology of 40+ sensors that gives Cruise AVs a 360-degree view to see far and wide and can map the location of surrounding objects within centimetres.

Since its founding, Cruise has raised some $13 billion from the likes of General Motors, Honda, Microsoft, SoftBank, T. Rowe Price, and Walmart, its latest round coming in June 2021 from Debt Financing, which was valued at $5 billion. This brings the company’s total valuation, according to some sources at least, to more than $30 billion.

5.Horizon Robotics (Estimated valuation: ∼$5B)

The only Chinese company on the list, Horizon Robotics was founded by Annie Tao, Chang Huang, Kai Yu and Ming Yang in 2015. Based in Beijing, Horizon Robotics is a pioneer in the area of AI computing for smart mobility. With more than 600 patents, the startup has been actively developing high-performance, low-power, and cost-effective deep learning computing solutions that advance transportation safety, enhance the driving experience and empower the future generation of autonomous vehicles.

With its unique Horizon Robotics Journey™ new AI Inference processor that utilizes efficient deep learning and AI optimization, Horizon Robotics is ready “to unleash the maximum value in AI to power the automotive intelligence of tomorrow.”

Horizon Robotics has raised a total of $1.6 billion in funding over eight rounds, its latest round coming in early 2021 from a Series C. This brings the company’s post-money valuation to some $5 billion.

6.Nuro (Estimated valuation: ∼$1B to $10B)

Based in Mountain View, California, Nuro was founded in 2016 by two former Google engineers, Jiajun Zhu and Dave Ferguson. Intent on disrupting the logistics industry by creating electric autonomous vehicles that deliver goods from stores to customers’ homes, Nuro is “on a mission to better everyday life through robotics.”

This has all been made possible through the startup’s R2 delivery wagons, the most commercially and technically mature autonomous vehicles in the world.

The R2 features 360° cameras, as well as Lidar, short and long-range radar, and ultrasonic sensors. We combine that advanced hardware with a robust autonomy stack that includes mapping, localization, perception, and prediction.

 — Nuro

In the spring of 2021, Nuro raised $500 million in a Series C funding round backed by Toyota’s Woven Capital and Chipotle. This brings the total raised by Nuro to $1.5 billion over five rounds. According to PrivCo, an insights platform for the financial health, market position and trajectory of U.S. private companies, Nuro has a post-money valuation in the range of $1 billion to $10 billion as of late 2020 while TechCrunch data had a $2.7 billion valuation following the SoftBank investment in 2019.

Though these figures are varying and startling in equal measure, the valuations are impressive enough and prove how much investors believe in the future of autonomous mobility.

“We are witnessing an unprecedented shift in consumer demand for safe and affordable local delivery services. This funding, which brings us together with many of the world’s top investors, positions Nuro confidently toward a future where our world-class technology is adopted into people’s everyday lives.”

 — Jiajun Zhu, CEO and co-founder, Nuro (Estimated valuation: $5.3B)

Founded by James Peng and Lou Tiancheng in 2016,, a Freemont, California-based startup backed by the likes of Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital and Legend Capital, aims to deliver autonomous mobility everywhere by building the safest and most reliable self-driving technology.

Currently testing its self-driving system in various locations across the U.S. and China, the startup’s Perception module “combines the strengths of a heuristic approach and deep learning models to boost performance, while ensuring the safety and operational redundancy of our vehicles. Performance capability is further enhanced by our multi-sensor fusion technology, which intelligently leverages the reliable sensor data depending on different environmental or driving scenarios.”

With a total of $1.1 billion raised in funding over seven rounds since inception,’s post-money valuation of $5.3 billion, according to some media sources, raising its value from $3 billion as of February 2020.

8.TuSimple (Estimated valuation: $8.5B)

Xiaodi Hou, Mo Chen and Jianan Hao are the co-founders of TuSimple, a San Diego-based self-driving truck startup set up in 2015. Through the state-of-the-art perception technology TuSimple AFN, the company provides autonomous freight capacity as a service for shippers and carriers, leading to transformational change for the trucking industry. As we speak, TuSimple is operating self-driving trucks out of Tucson, Arizona and Dallas, Texas.

To date, TuSimple has raised a total of $648.1 million in funding over 11 rounds. Valued at close to $8.5 billion through an initial public offering (IPO) in April of this year as per Reuters’ data.

Backed by the likes of Volkswagen’s commercial trucking unit Traton and Goodyear Ventures, TuSimple’s logistical solutions for autonomous depot-to-depot delivery has all the financial help it can muster.

9.Zoox (Estimated valuation: ∼$3.2B)

The final deep tech startup focused on autonomous mobility solutions is Zoox. Founded by Jesse Levinson and Tim Kentley-Klay in 2014, the Foster City, California startup intends to “reinvent personal transportation by making the future safer, cleaner, and more enjoyable for everyone.”

Acquired by Amazon in 2020 in a “definitive merger agreement” for more than $1.2 billion, Zoox’s robo-taxi technology —  which is being tested in both San Francisco’s Financial District and North Beach districts, as well as Las Vegas —  is similar in scope to what San Francisco startup Cruise is doing.

“One of the great things about Zoox is that the idea itself just makes a lot of sense. From first principles, there’s really a compelling reason to solve the problem the way we’ve been solving it and the market opportunity is unquestionably enormous. So armed with those facts and a team of wonderful employees and investors who strongly believed in that, we were able to weather some of the ups and downs of the industry, even though it’s not always been an easy ride.”

 — Jesse Levinson, co-founder and CTO of Zoox

Having raised a total of $1 billion in funding over six rounds from the likes of Blackbird Ventures, Lux Capital, Thomas Tull, Threshold and others, by July 2018 — according to Bloomberg — Zoox’s valuation was said to be $3.2 billion, though it has since been reported to have dropped since then.

Leave a Comment