A company named Ike has raised $52 million in Series A funding. The San Francisco-based startup is developing autonomous trucks with the goal of increasing safety, creating a commercial offering at scale, and helping improve the livelihoods of human drivers.
Bain Capital Ventures led the round, with participation from Redpoint Ventures, Fontinalis Partners, Basis Set Ventures, and Neo. Ajay Agarwal, a partner at Bain Capital, has joined Ike’s board of directors.
Ike plans to use the funding to continue adding staffers, even as it takes a more deliberate approach to autonomous vehicles than other self-driving companies.
Ike was founded by Jur van den Berg and Nancy Sun, who previously worked at Apple and Otto, and Alden Woodrow, who was Makani project lead at Google X. All three worked together at Uber Advanced Technologies Group, which shut down last summer. They launched Ike last year.
The company is named after Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower, who created the interstate highway system in 1956. In a blog post, Ike’s founders cited a shortage of drivers, growing accident rates, and rising demand from e-commerce as reasons to develop self-driving trucks.
Industry observers have said that fleets of autonomous logistics vehicles are more likely in the near future than self-driving passenger cars in congested urban environments. Aging truck drivers, less complex environments for long-haul trucking, and ever-increasing demand for rapid order fulfillment are contributing factors.
While millions of truck drivers across the U.S. may be concerned about their jobs, improving safety and efficiency are driving interest. The global self-driving truck market will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 10.4% to reach $1.69 billion by 2025, predicts Allied Market Research.
Ike takes a systems approach
Ike’s founders noted that “creating a self-driving truck is actually a systems problem,” not simply a software one. They said the company is not trying to replace drivers but rather assist them.
“It’s about computer vision and deep learning, but it’s also about wire harnesses, alternators, and steering columns. It’s about durable sensors, well-crafted regulations, and a clear approach to validation. Ike has systems engineering at its core,” stated Ike’s management. “Our technical development is based on rigorous requirements that we test against daily. This development process will allow us to build a product that works at scale — when thousands of trucks equipped with our technology are driving millions of miles on the interstate. It takes a little longer to get that right at the beginning, but we think it’s the only way that will really work.”
Ike licenses the software stack from Mountain View, Calif.-based Nuro.ai, which is developing autonomous delivery vehicles, said Redpoint Ventures partner Annie Kadavy. Nuro was founded by Dave Ferguson and Jiajun Zhu, who also worked at Google. Nuro itself has raised $92 million and is testing its vehicles with grocer Kroger.
“We’re making a lot of progress today on hardware, software, systems engineering without driving trucks on the road,” Woodrow told TechCrunch. “That’s partly because of the team we’ve assembled, but it’s also due to the licensing agreement with Nuro that has given us a set of really robust tools.”