Momenta, an autonomous driving technology startup founded less than a year ago, announced today (July 25) an USD46mn Series B round of financing. The investment was led by NIO Capital, with additional funding from Daimler Group (the parent company of Mercedes-Benz), Shunwei Capital, Sinovation Ventures and Unity Ventures.
Cao Xudong, Founder and CEO of Momenta, said that with this Series B funding, they will focus on three aspects: 1) continuous building of key capacities in artificial intelligence, i.e., big data, big computation and AI talents; 2) commercialization of vision-based environment perception and HD mapping technologies, and 3) research and development in L4 autonomy for high frequency scenarios.
So far, this autonomous driving technology company founded less than a year has raised three rounds of financing. In November 2016, just two months after its foundation, Momenta raised USD5mn in Series A round led by Blue Lake Capital with participation from Sinovation Ventures and ZhenFund. In early 2017, it raised Series A1 round from Shunwei Capital.
Why can Momenta win the favor of capital companies, and get additional funding from Daimler Group in just more than ten months?
NIO Capital, as the leading investor in this round, has a high opinion of Momenta. Zhu Yan, Partner of NIO Capital, told the Auto Business Review that NIO Capital chose Momenta out of three considerations: first, Momenta boasts outstanding ability in algorithms and is equipped with a world-class team of experts on artificial intelligence that have developed high quality programs in fields of environment perception, decision and HD maps; second, Momenta's team, with experience in commercialization, has developed actual products prior to its foundation; third, from a business model perspective, Momenta adopts the same cooperation model as race teams, OEMs and tier-1 suppliers, enabling it to quickly promote and execute its technical solutions while accumulating large amounts of data to improve product performance continuously.
NIO Capital was founded last year. The fund worth RMB10bn in the first phase was jointly established by NextEV, Sequoia Capital China, Hillhouse Capital Group and Yangtze River Industry Fund is focused on investment in electric vehicles and core components, new energy and energy internet, intelligent driving and Internet of Vehicles, new materials, travels and other areas.
The Auto Business Review learned that currently, NIO Capital has identified target projects in several key investment areas. Momenta's project is the first investment announced by NIO Capital and also the first startup funded by NIO Capital in the field of autonomous driving.
According to official information, Momenta was founded in September 2016, dedicated to building the brain for autonomous vehicles. Its core technologies are deep-learning based environment perception, HD maps, and driving decision algorithms, and the products include different levels of autonomous driving program and derived big data service.
Cao Xudong, the Founder of Momenta, graduated from Tsinghua University. Prior to the creation of Momenta, he worked for Microsoft Asia Research Institute and SenseTime, boasting experience in managing a R&D team of nearly 100 members and rich experience in product landing. The technologies he developed have been applied in Xbox, Bing, How-old and other products.
Just as recognized by the owners of capital, Momenta's team has many members from Tsinghua University, MIT, Microsoft Asia Research Institute, and etc., and has the world’s top deep-learning experts. R & D Director Ren Shaoqing is a Ph.D participating in joint training program of University of Science and Technology of China and Microsoft Asia Research Institute. He put forward the effective framework for object detection Faster RCNN, and image recognition algorithm ResNet, and received Best Paper Award of CVPR, the top-level conference in computer vision in 2016 for his paper.
Boasting profound technology accumulation and strong technical originality, he is also the author of FasterR-CNN and ResNet which have been widely used in the field of image recognition, as well as champions of ImageNet 2015, MS COCO Challenge 2015. The results of ImagNet object detection challenge 2017 were announced on July 18, and Momenta's team won a championship again.
Officials at Momenta said that Momenta's advanced autonomous driving technology has been recognized by OEMs and tier-1 suppliers. In the first half of this year, Momenta completed crowd-sourced driving data acquisition on nearly 1,000 vehicles by cooperating with third parties.
Cao Xudong said that, Momenta's team has many years of research experience in computer vision. To execute Momenta's technical solutions, you can use the “crowd-sourcing” approach, installing cameras and other equipment for perception on vehicles and using the operating vehicles on roads directly, without the need of making, modifying and controlling the vehicles to obtain the data of driver’s driving, road conditions and realize crowd-sourcing test and data collection.
Compared with unmanned vehicles developed by Google and Baidu that use laser radar to obtain environmental data, Momenta performs crowd-sourced data acquisition based on computer vision and deep-learning at a cost only one-tenth to one-hundredth of that of the former, which is more conductive to quickly realize mass production of autonomous cars and commercialization of autonomous driving technology.