From The Information: “Apple Looks to Acquire Struggling Self-Driving Car Startup Drive.ai” ($):
Apple is in the process of acquiring a well-known but struggling self-driving shuttle firm, Drive.ai, for its engineering talent in order boost Apple’s own development of a self-driving vehicle system, according to two people briefed about the situation.
The planned deal, described as an “acqui-hire” of the Silicon Valley firm by these people, could result in dozens of Drive.ai engineers ending up at Apple, one of the people said. Drive.ai, which has been running small pilot programs of its prototype shuttles in Texas, began seeking buyers for the company as early as February, as previously reported by The Information.
From Gene Munster’s “Why Apple May Want the Drive.ai Team,” mailed to Loup Ventures clients Thursday evening:
An acquisition of Drive.ai would certainly renew the conversation around Apple’s efforts in autonomy, about which, little tangible information is known…
Drive.ai spun out of Stanford’s AI Research Lab in 2015 and has since become one of the better-known startups working toward deploying autonomous vehicles, employing more than 100 engineers. In July of 2018, the company launched a pilot program to test fixed-route autonomous shuttles in Frisco, TX.
In addition to a self-driving software stack, Drive.ai was developing a communication system that would aid the interaction between the autonomous vehicle and pedestrians, bikers, other cars, etc. — one of the major outstanding question marks in the deployment of autonomous vehicles. Drive.ai had reportedly been seeking a buyer since February of this year, hiring an investment bank to lead the process. As such, we believe the potential acquisition price would be below their last $200M valuation.
My take: A nice tidy acqui-hire. Makes sense to me. Who needs a headache like Elon Musk?
UPDATE: Apple confirmed to Axios Tuesday that it has acquired Drive.ai, hiring dozens of Drive.ai engineers and, per sources, taking over its autonomous cars.