Drive.ai, a self-driving startup that was once valued at $200 million, is shutting down, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company filed notice with a state agency this week indicating its intention of closing permanently and laying off 90 employees.
The decision to close shop was made after a reported acquisition appeared to fall through. Three weeks ago, Apple was said to be in talks to buy Drive.ai, which was founded in 2015 by machine learning researchers from Stanford University and had been running a ride-hailing service with its autonomous shuttles in Texas. The deal could have resulted in dozens of Drive.ai engineers joining the tech giant’s secretive Project Titan, which has gone through its own struggles.
A year ago, Drive.ai appeared to be one of the more promising startups to be working on autonomous cars. The company made a name for itself for using deep learning to recognize and avoid objects on the road. Last year, Drive.ai sparked headlines when it conducted fixed-route tests with its autonomous vehicles without human safety drivers on public roads.
The startup’s fleet of modified Nissan NV200s were highlighter orange, bright to the point of searing, with a wavy blue stripe and “self-driving vehicle” emblazoned on the side. They also featured four LED screens — one on the hood, two above each of the front tires, and one on the rear — that display messages to pedestrians and anyone else in close proximity to the car. The screens displayed messages that convey the vehicle’s intent to pedestrians and other vehicles on the road — “waiting,” “going,” “entering,” or “exiting,” for example.
But it wasn’t enough to survive in an environment of consolidation and lowered expectations. Investors have poured billions of dollars into autonomous vehicle startups, many of which have scaled back their timelines or encountered technical challenges. Many experts see self-driving cars as being years, if not decades, away from full deployment. Meanwhile, many of the bigger firms working on the technology are eyeing partnerships in the interest of spreading the enormous costs across many companies.
A spokesperson for Drive.ai declined to comment.