Inceptio Technology this week announced that it has raised $100 million and received China’s first A-sample validation for Level 3 autonomous trucks. Level 3 vehicles can detect their environments and make some decisions, but a human driver is still required.
Inceptio obtained the A-sample approval with Dongfeng Commercial Vehicle Co. (doing business as Dongfeng Trucks). The validation “is a key milestone of productization in China’s autonomous driving industry and marks a solid step taken by Inceptio in volume production of L3 autonomous trucks,” said the startup, known legally as Jiluo Technology (Shanghai) Co.
Inceptio was founded in 2018 with the goal of building a nationwide freight network using self-driving trucks. The company noted that its progress is especially significant because of investment, staffing, and supply chain challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world is experiencing changes brought on by disruptive technology in the scale never seen before, whilst the world is also facing challenges in multiple fronts,” stated Jielong Zhang, chief financial officer of Inceptio. “Despite unprecedented difficulties due to COVID-19 pandemic, we are proud that Inceptio’s team, our investors, and our industry partners across locations in Shanghai, Wuhan, and Silicon Valley were able to close capital raising and deliver the product milestone on schedule. We look forward to working with more partners.”
Inceptio develops autonomy stack with trucking partners
In February 2019, Inceptio Technology opened a research and development center in California, joining its centers in China. The company planned to hire staffers to reach a headcount of about 300 people.
Last June, Inceptio launched joint development projects with leading Chinese OEMs for volume production of Level 3 autonomous heavy-duty trucks. The company was responsible for developing the full stack of autonomous software and the on-board computing platform, while the OEMs focused on engineering the drive-by-wire chassis platform. With the support of global Tier 1 automotive suppliers, the partners integrated the autonomous driving unit into vehicles and conducted testing and validation.
In March 2020, Inceptio and its partners completed A-sample validation. Inceptio and Dongfeng Trucks jointly completed the vehicle definition, as well as the design for the truck platform upgrade and drive-by-wire chassis platform. They also managed the interaction between autonomous driving system and the vehicle, plus the validation of core functions and performance.
“The joint development program between Dongfeng Trucks and Inceptio towards volume production of autonomous trucks will provide highly reliable and efficient smart logistics solutions to our customers,” said Wei Wang, deputy general manager of Dongfeng Trucks. “Dongfeng Trucks is committed to the partnership and will accelerate the development in autonomous driving standards, vehicle integration, powertrain, and other core technologies. We will actively promote smart vehicles and advanced connectivity in China’s commercial vehicles industry.”
Knorr Bremse was another key partner in the program and provided the drive-by-wire steering and redundant braking systems, said Inceptio.
Driving toward an end-to-end logistics network
Inceptio Technology said it still expects to begin production of autonomous trucks by the end of 2021. Following its end-to-end business model, the company plans to begin operating a trucking network using its proprietary technology in 2022.
More than 100 logistics and freight companies have already signed up for Inceptio’s Smart Truck Asset Service, marking progress in its commercialization.
“The A-sample validation in Inceptio-Dongfeng Trucks’ volume production development is a key milestone in productization in China autonomous driving industry,” said Julian Ma, founder and CEO of Inceptio. “We are thankful to our investors and partners for their recognition of our R&D capability and business model and for their firm commitment to our future development.”
“We will continue to pursue relentlessly the integration and innovation in autonomous driving and automotive engineering,” he added. “We are confident to be the first to mass-produce autonomous trucks and commercialize the autonomous driving technologies in China.”
Self-driving trucks hit some potholes
Self-driving truck startup Starsky Robotics shut down last month, and Ike and Kodiak Robotics have laid off staffers. However, persistent shortages of long-haul drivers, accelerating e-commerce demand, and logistics disruptions during the novel coronavirus outbreak have prompted more interest and investment in autonomous vehicles.
The global market for self-driving truck technology will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 10.4%, growing from $1 billion in 2020 to $1.6 billion by 2025, predicts Allied Market Research. Similarly, Mordor Intelligence forecasts a CAGR of 18.6% for the same period. Much of the driverless truck development is occurring outside of the U.S., noted ABI Research.
Other self-driving truck companies include Stockholm-based Einride, Mountain View, Calif.-based Waymo, and Pittsburgh-based Locomation. They are supported by a host of component suppliers, including solid-state lidar maker Innoviz.
Inceptio readies robot trucks as a service
“The autonomous trucking network built upon big data and artificial intelligence will become a pay-as-you-go infrastructure service in the logistics industry,” said Sherman Zhai, founder and CEO of G7 Networks Ltd., the largest fleet management platform in Asia. “G7 is willing to share its deep understanding of the logistics industry and customer needs with Inceptio. Leveraging on G7’s well-established big data analytics and network of service, we join hand in hand to usher in the new era of ‘Mobility as a Service.’”
“Inceptio has gathered top talents across the fields of autonomous driving, vehicle engineering, and logistics operations,” said Ming MEI, co-founder and CEO of investor Global Logistic Properties Ltd. (GLP). “They are among the most capable teams for realizing autonomous driving in logistics. Together with Inceptio, GLP will leverage its asset management strengths to build an exceptionally intelligent Asset-as-a-Service platform.”