Plus, a developer of autonomous truck technology, raised $200 million in funding. The round was led by new investors Guotai Junan International, CPE, and Wanxiang International Investment. Existing investors also participated.
Plus told The Robot Report it has now raised about $400 million since it was founded in 2016. The Cupertino, Calif.-based company just raised $100 million in November 2020. Plus said it plans to use the new funding to accelerate the global commercialization and deployment of its full-stack autonomy platform.
Automated trucks powered by Plus’ Level 4 technology will start mass production this year. The company said more than 10,000 units have already been pre-ordered. In the next few years, Plus expects to have its automated driving system deployed on tens of thousands of trucks across the U.S., China, and Europe. Its autonomous driving technology can be installed on existing trucks or built into new trucks. Plus told The Robot Report a human driver will remain in the cabin for the foreseeable future.
“What we’re really excited about with closing this round of funding is the additional capital we have to accelerate our commercialization plans, going beyond the mass production of our automated trucking system to building out a complete sales and support network, expanding internationally, and further growing our team,” Plus CEO and co-founder David Liu told The Robot Report.
While Plus got its start in the U.S., it’s also gained significant traction in China. It partnered with the Full Truck Alliance (FTA), a Chinese startup often referred to as the “Uber of Trucks.” The FTA is raising about $1.7 billion to further expand its business ahead of an initial public offering in 2021. Plus will help develop the autonomous trucks, which the FTA will sell on its platform.
Plus also works with FAW, which is China’s leading heavy-duty truck maker. The upcoming FAW J7+ trucks will be sold through FTA and are powered by Plus’ technology. The FAW J7+ recently passed the national certification test at the China Automotive Technology & Research Center. This is China’s first independent certification of an automated truck, marking an important milestone for the commercialization of automated heavy-duty trucks in China.
Plus partners with Ouster on LiDAR
Plus also announced a partnership with LiDAR developer Ouster. A new multi-year agreement includes an initial order of 2,000 Ouster LiDAR sensors as Plus ramps up deployments.
“LiDAR is a critical sensing modality to include in our sensor suite in order to develop the safest automated trucks,” said Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus. “As we start to deploy our automated driving system commercially this year, we need a LiDAR partner with cutting-edge technology that is high performing, reliable, and of production quality that is immediately available at scale. Ouster delivers on all of those requirements.”
Ouster said it is prepared to increase its supply to Ouster over the next five years. Ouster has already migrated the majority of its production volume to contract manufacturer Benchmark Electronics in Thailand. Ouster will also provide engineering support to Plus.
“We are focused on four industries where we believe digital LiDAR will be a technology lynchpin, and we see a huge opportunity in automated trucks that is driving significant demand for our sensors today and is growing exponentially in the near future,” said Angus Pacala, co-founder and CEO of Ouster.
Ouster is one of five LiDAR companies that have or are set to go public via a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC). Aeva, Innoviz, Luminar, and Velodyne are the others. Ouster partnered with Colonnade Acquisition Corp. in a transaction that is expected to close in the first half of 2021.
Kyle Vogt, co-founder, president & CTO at Cruise, a leading robotaxi developer, reacted to the LiDAR SPAC craze. He said the LiDAR industry will eventually consolidate, similar to what the robotaxi industry has gone through. The issue, according to Vogt, is the projected revenue comes from “entirely overlapping potential customers, with very little discount applied to future projections.”
This timeline highlights Plus’ previous and upcoming milestones: