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Autonomous Driving Startup Pony.ai Raises $112M from Sequoia China and More

“The self-driving vehicle is an inevitable trend that will disrupt the transportation system. The future market will be completely different from the traditional one we know today…”

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Pony.ai, a company that builds autonomous driving solutions, has closed a funding round of $112 million. The series A round was co-led by Morningside Venture Capital and Legend Capital. Seed round lead-investor Sequoia China and investor IDG Capital also participated in the round, along with Hongtai Capital, Legend Star, Puhua Capital, Polaris Capital, DCM Ventures, Comcast Ventures, Silicon Valley Future Capital and other funding sources. Miracle Capital was the exclusive financial advisor in this round.

With offices in both Silicon Valley and China, Pony.ai was founded by a group of seasoned engineers with deep learning and autonomous driving experience. James Peng, cofounder and CEO, was previously Chief Architect at Baidu, where he oversaw the technical direction of the autonomous driving division and other key areas such as big data and monetization platforms. Dr. Peng started his career at Google after earning a PhD from Stanford University, and he also holds a BS degree from Tsinghua University. Tiancheng Lou, cofounder and CTO, worked on autonomous driving at both Google X (before it became Waymo) and Baidu. Often more commonly known by his handle “ACRush”, Dr. Lou is a well-known programmer within the coding community – he has been a medalist in the Topcoder competition for the past 10 consecutive years as well as a 2-time champion of Google’s Code Jam. Dr. Lou holds a BS and PhD in Computer Science from Tsinghua University.

Pony.ai is building level 4 autonomous driving technology, meaning vehicles can perform all driving functions for an entire trip in both suburban and urban environments as well as inclement weather conditions. Though just over a year old, Pony.ai has made rapid progress in deploying its technology; the company’s self-driving cars can be spotted daily on Bay Area roads, testing various complex road conditions. The company has also made considerable progress in Guangzhou, China. Pony.ai established its second headquarter office in the city last October, and began testing its fleet of autonomous driving vehicles on public roads this past December.

“We are excited and honored to welcome our new group of investors to the team and are grateful for their support!” says cofounder and CEO, James Peng. “Autonomous driving has the potential to bring about massive benefits to society, and we hope to work closely with our outstanding investors to realize this future.” Cofounder and CTO, Tiancheng Lou, adds: “We very much look forward to working with our investors to achieve our mission of bringing the safest and the most reliable autonomous driving technology to market!”

“The self-driving vehicle is an inevitable trend that will disrupt the transportation system. The future market will be completely different from the traditional one we know today—business models and customer preferences will be redefined,” remarks Wenji Jin, managing director of Legend Capital. “This market’s enormous potential makes its development opportunities and directions similarly vast. Pony.ai is one of the very few companies we’ve seen that possesses the critical success factors: a team with a proven track record and extremely well-rounded technical expertise from both research and industry backgrounds. From product definition and systems integration to artificial intelligence, Pony.ai is the leader in this nascent industry. I believe Pony.ai holds the most promise in delivering L4 technology to the mass market.”

“We greatly admire both James and Tiancheng, and the talented world-class engineering team that they lead,” says Fisher (Fei) Zhang, Partner of Morningside Ventures. “The path to develop and commercialize self-driving cars is a long and difficult slope; we hope to work closely with Pony.ai in the long term to pioneer this new and uncharted world.”

Kui Zhou, Partner of Sequoia China, says: “The team has an established reputation in technical expertise and demonstrated highly efficient and fast execution. We are excited to become a partner of Pony.ai in exploring such a promising industry.”

“Pony.ai has the best autonomous driving engineering team in China, which helps it to obtain a leading position in new business model exploration,” says Young Guo, Partner of IDG Capital.

The company plans to use this round of funding to continue working towards its mission of building the safest and most reliable self-driving technology. In Q1 of this year, Pony.ai will begin operating an autonomous driving fleet in the Southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. In addition to fleet deployment, the company will continue to build key partnerships in both the US and China, and to rapidly grow its team in both geographies.



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