Optimus Ride is getting closer to commercializing its autonomous vehicle technology as the race to launch self-driving cars gets red hot.
The MIT spinoff announced on Tuesday that it raised an $18 million Series A funding round led by Greycroft Partners to accelerate the commercialization of its technology, expand its fleet of vehicles and make strategic hires. This brings the Boston-based company’s total funding to more than $23.25 million.
Ryan Chin, the company’s CEO and co-founder, told BostInno that the company plans to announce deals with customers in “several weeks” that will provide more details about how its technology will be brought to market. He declined to disclose the names of the company’s customers or how many it’s working with.
“Overall for us, it’s about, ‘how do we take what we have and essentially bring it to the people? How do we provide sustainable, efficient, smart, equitable access to mobility?'” Chin said. “That’s the goal of the company: to provide fully autonomous tech to people, especially those who don’t have mobility.”
Optimus Ride’s funding round comes a little over a week after its main rival in Boston, nuTonomy, announced that it was getting acquired by European auto supply giant Delphi for up to $450 million — the latest acquisition of an autonomous vehicle startup and a significant exit for a company that had raised a little under $20 million from investors.
When nuTonomy’s acquisition was announced, the company’s CEO Karl Iagnemma said at the time that getting acquired by an auto supplier with existing relationships in the industry would give the startup the biggest opportunity in the autonomous vehicle space. “It’s not clear to me a startup or tech company will be able to address those markets because it hasn’t established those relationships or that trust,” he added.
Asked about Iagnemma’s comments, Chin said he believes “very strongly that Optimus can be a standalone company” in the long run.
“You can be a standalone company. There’s no question in my mind.”
“Our view is if you have the right approach, if you have the right partnership with vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, the right customers, the right relationships with regulators, you can be a standalone company,” Chin said. “There’s no question in my mind.”
As a standalone company, Chin added, it can allow Optimus to remain “vehicle agnostic,” meaning its software can be used for anything from cars to forklifts.
Optimus Ride is working on Level 4 autonomy, meaning that its autonomous vehicles will require no driver attention, and it has been testing vehicles in the Seaport since it received approval from the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts over the summer.
Chin said Optimus Ride’s vehicles have now been tested for hundreds of hours in the daytime, including when there is light rain. The company will soon expand its testing to nighttime hours and during more adverse weather.
The company will be expanding the scope of its testing in winter and early spring, Chin added, but he declined to provide specific details of its plans. In general, for any kind of autonomous vehicle company, an important milestone is to eventually start testing vehicles with civilian passengers, which Optimus Ride has not done yet.
“We’re totally in a position in our minds that the technology is being validated and the potential to move people and goods autonomously is there,” Chin said.
Optimus Ride currently has 28 employees.