Waymo, established in 2009, is a division of search giant Google, which develops autonomous driving technology.
The company offers a variety of different services, most notably its own ride-hailing service dubbed Waymo ONE. Right now, users in Phoenix and San Francisco can hail driverless cabs.
This is all made possible by the firm’s in-house manufactured technology, which it calls Waymo Driver. In essence, various lidar-powered sensors and other cameras are mounted on top and on the side of the vehicle.
Additionally, the firm maps out the entire territory, ranging from lane markers to stop signs to curbs and crosswalks, to substitute its laser data.
Waymo claims that it has built up over 20+ million miles of real-world driving and 20+ billion miles in simulation.
It has since used that tech and applied it to the trucking industry as well. With Waymo Via, trucking companies and other last-mile delivery operators can transport goods without relying on drivers.
The firm entered its current form when it was renamed from the Google Self-Driving Car Project to Waymo back in 2016.
Google (or rather Alphabet) as well as a slew of other car manufacturers, including Mercedes Benz or Nissan, have poured $5.5 billion into Waymo to date, valuing the business at an estimated $30 billion.
However, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, though. The city of San Francisco, for example, asked Waymo to halt portions of its operations due to a variety of incidents leading to traffic jams and other externalities.
The methodology with which competitors of Waymo are ranked is based on various data points. Information such as the funding raised, valuation, number of customers or partners, distance driven, active cities, and anything else in between will be taken into account.
This analysis is focused on other autonomous driving startups and thus excludes other car manufacturers exploring said technology (with one exception).
I also want to note that this analysis should not be seen as an endorsement of either service. It is merely a summary of the competition that Waymo faces today.
So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at the top 7 competitors of Waymo.
Headquarters: San Francisco, California Founder(s): Daniel Kan, Kyle Vogt Year Founded: 2013
Cruise focuses on developing and deploying autonomous vehicle technology for use in ride-sharing and personal transportation. The company’s integrated approach to self-driving technology allows for a scalable and modular system that can be easily adapted to different vehicles and environments. Apart from mounting its tech into existing car models, Cruise has also developed its own vehicle called Origin.
Kyle Vogt and Dan Kan founded Cruise to develop and deploy autonomous vehicle technology for use in ride-sharing (Kan previously worked at Uber). Vogt, a serial entrepreneur himself, was inspired to start the company after seeing the potential of self-driving technology to transform transportation. He initially met Kan when the latter joined Vogt’s startup, which initially began as Justin.tv and is now commonly known as Twitch.
General Motors (GM) acquired Cruise in 2016 in order to gain access to the company’s advanced autonomous vehicle technology. The conglomerate churned out over $1 billion for the acquisition and has since provided additional funding to support Cruise’s development and deployment of self-driving vehicles.
The firm has achieved several key milestones ever since. Those entail logging over 5 million miles on public roads with its self-driving vehicles. GM also began offering free rides to consumers via its Chevy Bolt model and clocked over 250,000 accident-free miles thus far in cities like San Francisco or Phoenix.
As of right now, Cruise has raised over $15 billion in funding from investors such as SoftBank and Honda while simultaneously being valued at $30 billion (as of the summer of 2021). Apart from GM, Cruise counts Microsoft, SoftBank, and T. Rowe Price as major backers.
Sources: Crunchbase, Detroit Free Press, GM Authority
Headquarters: San Francisco, California Founder(s): Chris Urmson, J. Andrew Bagnell, Sterling Anderson Year Founded: 2017
Aurora applies self-driving technology in a variety of transportation applications, such as trucking and logistics, public transit, and personal vehicles. Its two core offerings are called Horizon (aimed at trucking) and Connect (for vehicles transporting customers).
Aurora has partnered with several major car and truck manufacturers, including Volkswagen, Hyundai, and PACCAR. In logistics and transportation, key partners include Uber and FedEx, among others.
In the past, Tesla filed a lawsuit against Aurora accusing its founders of trying to poach at least a dozen Tesla engineers and of taking confidential information. The suit was later dropped in a settlement that saw Aurora pay $100,000.
As of September 2021, Aurora has driven more than 4.5 million miles on American roads, on top of billions in simulated miles. However, most of those miles are still driven as part of the firm’s extensive testing and pilot phases. A commercial launch is slated for 2024.
Aurora raised over $500 million in funding from investors such as Amazon and Sequoia Capital before going public in November 2021. The IPO and subsequent funding netted the firm another $3.5 billion.
Sources: Aurora Connect, Crunchbase, TechCrunch, TechCrunch
Headquarters: Mountain View, California Founder(s): Dave Ferguson, Jiajun Zhu Year Founded: 2016
Nuro is an electric self-driving vehicle manufacturer that is focused on developing and deploying autonomous technology for use in last-mile delivery and personal transportation. It mainly focuses on autonomous delivery with its namesake Nuro vehicle. Its P2 model can, furthermore, be mounted onto existing vehicles.
Ferguson and Zhu had a front-row seat to the self-driving car revolution when they left Waymo to start Nuro. Their vast experience enabled the founders to make Nuro the first autonomous vehicle manufacturer to receive an NHTSA-approved exemption, thus allowing it to operate a low-speed vehicle in public.
Furthermore, the firm has reached several milestones, including driving close to 60,000 miles in 2021 alone, operating in several cities such as Houston or San Francisco, and attracting major customers like Walmart and Uber (a 10-year partnership, that is) for its self-driving technology, which is actually in commercial use.
Investors have supported the firm’s mission with more than $2.1 billion in funding, valuing it at a whopping $8.6 billion. However, the firm also had to lay off a significant chunk of its workforce due to recession fears and thus limited access to capital markets.
Source: Crunchbase, Nuro About, Nuro Vehicle List, TechCrunch, The Street
Headquarters: Austin, Texas Founder(s): Martin Eberhard, Marc Tarpenning Year Founded: 2003
At this point, Tesla certainly doesn’t need any introduction. It isn’t just the highest-valued car manufacturer but singlehandedly ushered in the era of electric mobility. And the firm’s autonomous efforts are nothing to scoff at, either.
The firm, and more precisely its outspoken CEO Elon Musk, have touted full self-driving (FSD) capabilities since 2016. However, as of 2023, this remains a promise. While drivers can utilize Tesla’s autonomous driving technology in some scenarios (e.g., during traffic jams), it still isn’t close to FSD.
All Tesla vehicles are currently equipped with 8 cameras and advanced vision processing for added safety. As such, Tesla, unlike Waymo and others on this list, does not rely on lidar technology. Instead, the firm utilizes coarse-grained two-dimensional maps and cameras, on top of various radars and ultrasonic sensors.
Tesla’s single biggest advantage is that it utilizes the data from its sold vehicles and feeds them into its existing image recognition technology. Customers that enabled the FSD Beta have driven over 35 million miles thus far (on top of all the other test miles Tesla itself has driven, which are likely surpassing > 1 billion).
Sources: Electrik, Tesla, The Verge
5. Luminar Technologies
Headquarters: Orlando, Florida Founder(s): Austin Russell, Jason Eichenholz Year Founded: 2012
Luminar founder Austin Russell started the firm at age 17 after dropping out of Stanford and becoming a Thiel Fellow, thus granting him $100,000 in seed funding. Jason Eichenholz, an accomplished entrepreneur in the field of lasers and Russell’s mentor, joined along for the ride.
After five years of tinkling around, they finally unveiled Luminar in 2017. The two introduced a LIDAR sensor that boasted a 200-meter range and was capable of seeing dark objects on a road. Luminar has since expanded to also offer perception software and HD maps.
It’s thus focused on equipping the vehicles of other car brands. The firm has signed up over 50 commercial partners such as Volvo and Mercedes. It also works together with other platforms, such as Mobileye, to provide consumers with ride-hailing services.
Luminar’s vision is supported by $1 billion+ in funding the firm has raised. Additionally, it went public back in December 2020, making it one of the first and only autonomous driving companies to do so.
Sources: CNN, Crunchbase, Luminar, The Orange County Register
Headquarters: Fremont, California Founder(s): James Peng, Tiancheng Lou Year Founded: 2016
Pony.ai is one of China’s most potent autonomous driving startups. In fact, back in December 2018, it became the first startup in the space that enabled passengers to hail an autonomous vehicle. The firm also boasts a division aimed at trucks dubbed PonyTron.
It has since expanded to Guangzhou, Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen in China as well as Fremont and Irvine in the US. Pony’s rapid growth has enabled the firm to amass a valuation of $8.5 billion (after raising over $1 billion in funding).
Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing, though. In late 2021, California halted the firm’s tests after one of its cars drove into a street sign. Then, some of its employees departed the firm to start a competing autonomous driving startup (Qingtian Trucking), allegedly taking trade secrets with them.
As a result, Pony.ai has begun to expand its services and now allows car manufacturers to install its driverless technology on their vehicles. Its current tech is used on a variety of different models from manufacturers such as Lexus, Hyundai, Lincoln, or BYD.
Sources: Crunchbase, Pony.ai, TechCrunch
Headquarters: Boston, Massachusetts Founder(s): Hyundai, Aptiv Year Founded: 2019
Motional is a joint venture established by automaker Hyundai Motor Group and auto supplier Aptiv, which was initially spun out of MIT and Carnegie Mellon University back in 2013.
Six years later, in 2019, Aptiv and Hyundai announced that they would invest a total of $4 billion to establish the venture. Each of the parties involved currently owns 50 percent of Motional.
The firm’s core offering includes developing Level 4 autonomous vehicles for ride-hail and delivery networks. It uses a total of 30+ sensors, namely cameras, radar, and LiDAR, which are mounted on vehicles such as Hyundai’s IONIQ 5.
Motional’s customers include ride-hailing platforms like Lyft, Via, and Uber. Together, they have already deployed their autonomous driving technology in cities such as Las Vegas (Uber) or Los Angeles (Lyft).