AI pioneer, visionary launches autonomous vehicle firm in Toronto
Waabi to build a pathway to commercially viable, scalable self-driving cars
Automation / Robotics
Waabi, founded by AI pioneer and visionary Raquel Urtasun, today launched out of stealth to build the next generation of self-driving technology. Waabi’s innovative approach unleashes the power of AI to ‘drive’ safely in the real world, bringing the promise of self-driving closer to commercialization than ever before.
Waabi also announced today a $83.5-million (USD) Series A financing with backing from best-in-class investors across the technology, logistics and the Canadian innovation ecosystem. The round, which is among the largest Series A rounds ever raised in Canada, was led by Khosla Ventures with additional participation from Uber, Radical Ventures, 8VC, OMERS Ventures, BDC Capital’s Women in Technology Venture Fund (WIT), Aurora Innovation Inc., AI luminaries Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, Sanja Fidler and others.
“Self-driving is one of the most exciting and important technologies of our generation. Once solved at scale, it will change the world as we know it,” said Founder and CEO Raquel Urtasun. “Waabi is the culmination of my life’s work to bring commercially viable self-driving technology to society and I’m honoured to be joined by a team of extraordinary scientists, engineers and technologists who are equally committed to executing on this bold vision.”
Since the first DARPA Grand Challenge in 2004, the self-driving industry has made meaningful progress but commercial deployment is still limited to very simple and small operational domains. The traditional approach to engineering self-driving vehicles results in a software stack that does not take full advantage of the power of AI, and that requires complex and time-consuming manual tuning. This makes scaling costly and technically challenging, especially when it comes to solving for less frequent and more unpredictable driving scenarios.
Revolutionary closed loop simulator
Building off the lessons of the last two decades, Waabi is tackling self-driving in a new way. The company’s breakthrough, AI-first approach, developed by a team of world leading technologists, leverages deep learning, probabilistic inference and complex optimization to create software that is end-to-end trainable, interpretable and capable of very complex reasoning. This, together with a revolutionary closed loop simulator that has an unprecedented level of fidelity, enables testing at scale of both common driving scenarios and safety-critical edge cases. This approach significantly reduces the need to drive testing miles in the real world and results in a safer, more affordable, solution.
“Waabi brings something radically new to the self-driving space,” said Sven Strohband, Managing Director at Khosla Ventures. “With a dream team that has been at the forefront of innovation in the industry and a differentiated, AI-first approach, Waabi is well positioned to lead the next generation of self-driving technology and we’re thrilled to support them in that journey.”
Women-led technology firms
“Raquel is truly one-of-a-kind _ a tenacious and inspiring leader who empowers those around her to excel,” said Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Uber. “I can’t wait to see everything she accomplishes for the self-driving industry.”
“We believe that diversity powers innovation, and are committed to supporting women-led technology companies that have world-changing potential,” said Michelle Scarborough, Managing Partner, Strategic Investments and Women in Tech Venture Fund, at BDC Capital. “Raquel Urtasun is a pioneer in the self-driving space, who will use her unrivaled qualifications, unparalleled experience and deep knowledge to build the future. We’re so proud to champion her team and partner with them as they build Waabi into a global leader.”
Building a world class team in technology hub, Toronto
In recent years, Toronto’s tech industry has seen rapid expansion. In 2020, the city was ranked #4 out of 50 markets in North America for tech talent and opportunity with a tech talent labor pool of 250,000, according to CBRE’s 2020 Scoring Tech Talent survey. This growing market is bolstered by a strong network of world class universities like the University of Toronto, an institution renowned for its AI acumen.
The Waabi team, based out of Toronto and California and led by Urtasun, who is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the University of Toronto and a co-founder of the Vector Institute for AI, is considered to be at the forefront of innovation in the self-driving industry, globally. The team will initially focus on deploying Waabi’s software in logistics, specifically long-haul trucking, an industry where self-driving technology stands to make the biggest and swiftest impact due to a chronic driver shortage and pervasive safety issues.
As the company grows, Toronto will remain a critical hub for developing and testing software as well as scaling its team.
“Raquel is an international star and an extraordinary talent,” said John Tory, Mayor of Toronto. “I am honoured but not surprised that she would choose Toronto as the headquarters for her latest, groundbreaking venture. Toronto has world class tech talent and is home to some of the most exciting AI research being done today. Waabi will thrive here and I look forward to continuing to partner with Raquel and her team as they grow and make progress in realizing the full potential of self-driving technology.”
Digital economy powered by trustworthy AI
“Canada is a leader in breakthrough technologies such as AI and autonomous vehicles. Canadian universities, researchers and entrepreneurs are some of the best in the world in these fields,” said Francois-Philippe Champagne, the Canadian Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “With the launch of Waabi, helmed by Raquel Urtasun, we are seeing Canada continue to be at the forefront of innovation in this sector. I’m proud to see this team growing and creating good jobs here in Canada.”
“Waabi reflects amazing momentum in the AI ecosystem, and reinforces Canada’s position as home to world-leading talent,” said Jordan Jacobs, Managing Partner at Radical Ventures. “We are proud to build on our longtime relationship with Raquel and to support Waabi’s work to change the world for the better.
“Ontario is home to a world-class technology and innovation sector, including AI technologies. The launch of Waabi, under the leadership of world-renowned AI leader Raquel Urtasun, is another exciting addition to the region,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, President of the Treasury Board, Minister of Finance and Minister responsible for Digital and Data Transformation. “Building a digital economy that is powered by trustworthy AI is a key part of our plan to make Ontario a world-leading digital jurisdiction, deliver simpler and easier services for people and create the high-tech jobs of today’s modern world.”