Voyage, a self-driving car startup that spun out of online education giant Udacity back in 2017, has raised $31 million in a series B round of funding led by Franklin Templeton, with participation from Khosla Ventures, Jaguar Land Rover’s InMotion Ventures, and Chevron Technology Ventures.
Voyage is one of many companies working to bring autonomous vehicles to market. However, the San Francisco-based startup is specifically targeting communities that may have a greater and more imminent need for a network of self-driving cars. “Those who need it most,” as the company puts it.
Indeed, Voyage has previously inked an exclusive license to deploy an autonomous ride-sharing service within one of the world’s biggest retirement villages, located in Florida, in addition to its first test-bed in a similar — but smaller — community in San Jose.
Voyage was founded by CEO Oliver Cameron, Udacity’s former VP of product and engineering, alongside MacCallister Higgins, an ex-senior software engineer at Udacity.
“Many residents within our communities don’t have access to transportation options that work for them,” Cameron said. “Our first driverless product — with no test driver — aims to ensure there’s always a viable option to move around independently within a community. We begin with a self-driving car that can travel point-to-point within our communities at speeds up to 25 miles-per-hour.”
Rather than building its own cars from scratch, Voyage’s G2 vehicles are basically adapted Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid mini-vans with all the necessary sensors and systems from third-party players, which are paired with its own machine learning technology developed in-house.
Prior to now, Voyage had raised around $20 million, and with another $31 million in the bank, it said that it plans to ramp up its production efforts in preparation to hit public roads — so far, its vehicles have been limited to the private roads inside retirement villages. Additionally, the company said that it will expand its team of “self-driving experts,” add more G2 vehicles to its existing fleets, and launch an upgraded “G3” driverless car.
“With this fresh capital, we’re ramping up for further growth, hiring for engineering, operations, and leadership positions in Palo Alto and Florida,” Cameron said. “In addition, we continue to see huge traction with hiring remotely for certain engineering positions. Talent is everywhere, and we are eager to welcome the most talented and mission-driven people to Voyage, regardless of where they live.”
It’s also worth noting here that Voyage has made a number of significant hires over the past year or so, including its new chief technology officer (CTO) Drew Gray, who previously served in various engineering roles at Tesla, GM’s Cruise Automation, Uber, and Otto. The company also hired Davide Bacchet, formerly of Tesla, Apple, and Nio, as its new director of autonomy.
There are a number of major players pushing to bring commercial taxi services to the fray, perhaps most notably Alphabet’s Waymo, which unveiled its first commercial driverless ride-share service in Phoenix last year. Last month, Waymo also revealed it was expanding its testing to Florida, in addition to its existing sites in Novi (Michigan), Kirkland (Washington), San Francisco, and Phoenix.
It’s clear that the autonomous vehicle revolution is really starting to gain momentum. But with a focus on a specific, sizable niche — elderly people and vast retirement villages — Voyage has managed to make progress in getting its service ready for prime time, as it prepares to open things up to more locales across the U.S.
“We’ve been working for over two years on this driverless product, and progress has been rapid,” Cameron added. “Our vehicles intelligently and autonomously navigate the complex neighborhoods of our communities, and safely transport our passengers door-to-door. This capital will take us to the next level, enabling us to commercialize safe, self-driving technology within and outside these communities.”