Alphabet’s self-driving technology arm, Waymo, recently announced that it has now clocked 10 million self-driven miles on public roads — double the number from just eight months ago. As the burgeoning autonomous vehicle industry gets ready for prime time, testing the cars, trucks, taxis, and buses on public roads is a crucial part of preparations, as this is how vehicles are “taught” to adapt to countless real-world situations.

It took Waymo nearly a decade to hit 10 million public road miles, and the costs involved in such an endeavor may be prohibitively expensive for many other companies, not to mention the time it takes to get up to speed. But this is where startups such as Cognata are looking to make their mark, through an AI-powered driving simulation platform that promises to “shave years off the validation time” for autonomous vehicles while also eliminating the safety issues, costs, and difficulties of scaling a real-world road-testing program.

On the road

Founded out of Israel in 2016, Cognata has previously raised $5 million in funding, and today it added another $18.5 million to the mix via a series B round led by investors that include Scale Venture Partners, Airbus Ventures, Emerge, Maniv Mobility, and Global IoT Technology Ventures. The company said it will use its fresh cash influx to grow its engineering team and expand commercially in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.

Using deep learning and computer vision, Cognata’s simulation platform effectively recreates real cities virtually, including roads, lane markings, buildings, traffic signs, and even plants and bushes that may exist on a public thoroughfare.

Other companies operating in the simulation sphere include Redwood City-based Metamoto, which raised a $2 million seed round last year. And although major players such as Waymo have notched up significant road miles, the company hasn’t ignored the benefits of private simulations — it has carried out 7 billion miles virtually.

“Simulation is critical to driving autonomous vehicle technology forward by validating the technology in a virtual environment, where the AI software can be trained before getting deployed on the road,” said Cognata CEO and founder Danny Atsmon. “Simulation is the solution that will speed up the innovation process while providing safety to the public. We are building the market leader in this space.”

Audi recently emerged as the first major carmaker to ink a multi-year partnership with Cognata, as the German automotive giant looks to expedite the process of getting its autonomous vehicles ready for market.

“As autonomous vehicles get closer to market, automakers must have a comprehensive simulation solution in place to meet the stringent training demands,” added Scale Venture Partners’ Rory O’Driscoll, who now joins Cognata’s board of directors. “Cognata’s simulation platform is a critical component for the development of self-driving vehicles and the future of the industry.”

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