Applied Intuition lands $6 billion valuation for AI-powered autonomous vehicle software | TechCrunch

Autonomous vehicle software company Applied Intuition has raised $250 million in a round that values the startup at $6 billion, as it pushes to bring more artificial intelligence to the automotive, defense, construction and agriculture sectors.

The eye-popping funding round is the latest example of investor fervor for AI. Applied Intuition appears to have nailed a particular sweet spot for VCs who are on the hunt for startups with AI products that cross into large industries with big budgets — defense being one hot area — with seemingly endless opportunities.

The Series E round was led by Lux Capital’s Bilal Zuberi, investor Elad Gil, and Porsche Investments Management, the sports car maker’s independent venture arm. Others joining the round were Andreessen Horowitz, Mary Meeker’s growth fund Bond, and even Formula 1 world champion Nico Rosberg. Lux Capital, Elad Gil, and Andreessen Horowitz all previously led funding rounds for Applied Intuition.

The fresh capital — all equity — will go towards funding “the most ambitious projects that we have, without flooding the company and breaking our culture,” co-founder and CEO Qasar Younis tells TechCrunch in an interview.

Founded in 2017, Applied Intuition creates software that automakers and others use to develop autonomous vehicle solutions. Some of that work involves creating simulations that let customers test and re-test their perception and vehicle behavior systems, or helping them manage the reams of data involved in developing AVs.

“When they think like, ‘I have this software or AI problem,’ we generally want them to think about us,” Younis says. “Like we want to be that first call.”

That approach appears to be succeeding: The company claims to work with “18 of the top 20 automakers,” including General Motors (where Younis used to work before stints at Google and Y Combinator), Toyota and Volkswagen, as well as autonomous vehicle startups like Gatik, Motional and Kodiak. The company also has a contract with the Army and Defense Innovation Unit.

Peter Ludwig, co-founder and CTO, tells TechCrunch he thinks it’s “dangerous for an automaker to not partner with us in some ways because of just the sheer complexity and the impact that some of the technology we’re working on.”

The new funding round comes at a time when development of autonomous vehicles is facing renewed scrutiny, with GM-owned Cruise mired in multiple investigations surrounding a pedestrian crash late last year, Waymo’s first-ever software recall (and a recent minor crash with a cyclist), as well as layoffs and other changes to the scope of some of the most ambitious projects in the space.

The appetite for artificial intelligence, however, could not be more ascendant. Younis, in a statement, said that building more AI technology into its products will “exponentially accelerate the production of next-generation vehicles.”

That could mean a number of things, Younis tells TechCrunch, like using AI to help generate more dynamic simulated environments for companies to test their autonomous vehicles in. “Simulators, they’re extremely complex,” he says. “We have teams and teams of PhDs that are just sweating over this stuff all day long.” Applied Intuition will be working with some of the buzzier technologies like large language models, Younis says, but also “more speculative stuff that’s approaching more of the research domain.”

“If you had a world class AI team pointed towards all the problems in automotive, there’s plenty of low hanging fruit,” Younis says.

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