Self-driving truck company Ike today announced that it’s been acquired by Nuro, the autonomous delivery vehicle startup, for an undisclosed amount. Nuro says it’s already begun work on integration of teams and technology and that joining forces with Nuro will allow it to “move faster on an ambitious mission to make people’s lives better with automated vehicles.”
Some experts predict the coronavirus outbreak will hasten the adoption of driverless vehicles for delivery. A study published by CarGurus found that 39% of people don’t plan to use human-driven ride-sharing services post-pandemic for fear of insufficient sanitation. Despite driverless cars’ need for regular disinfection and the public’s misgivings about their general safety, they promise to minimize the risk of spreading disease because they inherently limit driver-rider contact.
“Our companies already have a lot in common — shared values, complementary expertise, and technology with the same DNA,” Ike wrote in a blog post. “Our teams have always collaborated closely, and the time is now right to join forces formally and accelerate our progress … After years of hard work to fulfill the promise of automated vehicles, we expect 2021 to be an important moment for Nuro and for the world. We are thrilled to start this next chapter of Ike’s journey and help deliver on a shared mission, together.”
Ike, a self-driving truck startup founded by former Apple, Google, and Uber Advanced Technologies Group engineers, previously raised $52 million in venture capital in a February 2019 series A. The company’s namesake — President Dwight D. Eisenhower and the interstate system he helped create with the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act — wasn’t the only noteworthy thing about the company. Rather than develop a driverless solution in-house, it licensed autonomous delivery company Nuro’s localization, perception, prediction, and planning software. (Nuro has a small stake in Ike.) And Ike’s refrained from making bold pronouncements about its service — while it tested self-driving trucks on public California roads in 2019, they had human safety drivers behind the wheel, and they didn’t operate autonomously anywhere but on the highway.
From the outside looking in, Ike certainly had the chops to succeed in a market predicted to be worth hundreds of billions. Van den Berg and Sun are veterans of Apple’s special projects group and Otto, an autonomous trucking startup acquired (and later shuttered) by Uber. Woodrow, for his part, was product lead of Google X’s Makani project, which seeks to develop kites that produce electricity by harnessing wind energy, and he served as a group product manager at Uber’s self-driving truck program.
But Ike had competition in spades, like Thor Trucks and Pronto.ai. There’s also TuSimple, a three-year-old autonomous truck company with autonomous vehicles operating in Arizona, California, and China, and venture-backed Swedish driverless car company Einride. Meanwhile, Paz Eshel and former Uber and Otto engineer Don Burnette recently secured $40 million for startup Kodiak Robotics. That’s not to mention Embark, which integrates its self-driving systems into Peterbilt semis — and which recently launched a pilot with Amazon to haul cargo.
The pandemic and its effects, including testing delays, has resulted in consolidation, tabled or canceled launches, and shakeups across the autonomous transportation industry. Ford pushed the unveiling of its self-driving service from 2021 to 2022; Waymo CEO John Krafcik told the New York Times the pandemic delayed work by at least two months; and Amazon acquired driverless car startup Zoox for $1.3 billion. According to Boston Consulting Group managing director Brian Collie, broad commercialization of AVs won’t happen before 2025 or 2026 — at least three years later than originally anticipated.