Uisee Technology, a Beijing-based autonomous driving technology startup, raised $154 million in funding from the Chinese government-backed Guokai National Manufacturing Transformation and Upgrade Fund.
Uisee said the funding will be used to accelerate the development of its full-stack autonomous driving technology. Founded in 2016, Uisee’s autonomy stack helps create L4 autonomous vehicles for a variety of logistics applications at airports factories, ports and other restricted environments.
In December 2019, Uisee partnered with Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) on an autonomous electric tractor (AET). The AET is used on a daily basis, transporting baggage for thousands of passengers. According to HKIA, this is the first AET to be put into live operation at an airport anywhere in the world. You can watch the AET in action in the video below.
The AET has no human safety driver in the cabin, and it makes runs at Terminal 1 of HKIA traveling at speeds up to 20 kilometers per hour. There are eight HD cameras mounted on the sides of the AET and three LiDAR sensors. It also has a Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) system with a range of error of just 10 to 15cm.
By the first quarter of 2021, HKIA said all of its traditional baggage tractors operated manually at Terminal 1 will be replaced by AETs. This is a revenue-generating application for Uisee, which is a rarity in these early days of the autonomous vehicle industry. The AETs will also increase safety at the terminal.
“Many traffic accidents are caused by drivers having long working hours and fatigue, as well as poor weather conditions like heavy rain or fog,” said Steven Yiu, deputy director, service delivery, Airport Authority Hong Kong. “Hong Kong International Airport has deployed the AET based on the considerations of low labour availability, accidents reduction and efficiency improvement.”
Uisee also partnered with SAIC-GM-Wuling Automobile, a joint venture between SAIC and General Motors, to deploy a fleet of autonomous vehicles at one of the automaker’s manufacturing facilities. Uisee said the fleet has logged more than 300,000 kilometers (186,411 miles) unmanned as of January.
Uisee was founded by Gansha Wu, who is the former president of Intel Research China. Robert Bosch Venture Capital led the company’s Series B round back in February 2020.
Growth of autonomous vehicles in China
China is aiming to achieve mass production of lower-level autonomous vehicles by 2025. In a 2018 report, Deloitte predicted sales of L4 autonomous vehicles in China to exceed 500,000 units by 2030.
“In China, common consensus in the industry is that autonomous driving, especially the development of L3 and L4 automation, remains a hot area of investment,” said Richard Wang, a senior analyst at the Gasgoo Auto Research Institute. “We’re expecting more new players to enter and disrupt the market in the next two to three years.”
Another Chinese autonomous vehicle company, Guangzhou-based WeRide, earlier this month completed a $310 million Series B round of funding. It launched a L4 robotaxi service in Guangzhou in November 2019. WeRide claimed this is the first publicly accessible robotaxi service in the city. It covers an area of 144 square kilometers (89.4 sq. mi.) in Huangpu District and Guangzhou Development District. In the service’s first year of operation, 60,000-plus users went on a total of 147,128 rides, according to WeRide.
Plus.ai, a self-driving truck company with offices in the U.S. and China, in November 2020 raised $100 million from Guotai Junan International, a Hong Kong-based investment and securities firm, and Hedosophia, a London-based VC firm.