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UISEE: Transformation of Autonomous Driving Company after the COVID-19 Crisis
COVID-19 and China
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Key takeaways

UISEE is a fast-developing full-stack autonomous driving solution provider for passenger cars, commercial vehicles and industrial vehicles.

Autonomous logistics and delivery, taking the place of RoboTaxis, have become the new focus of the capital market after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Core technology

UISEE is a startup that develops autonomous driving solutions for automobile manufacturers. It has focused on Level 4 (L4) autonomous driving technology since it was established in 2016. Similar to many hot startups in China, UISEE has a prestigious and professional founding team.

The founder, Gansha Wu, was the director of Intel Lab China (ILC) before founding UISEE. He is known as an expert in embedded systems (computer systems designed for dedicated functions for equipment such as phones, vehicles, and robots). With his professional knowledge and insight, Gansha has led ILC’s research in big data analysis and robotics. 

Besides ample experience in embedded systems, UISEE’s autonomous driving R&D team also has profound insight into computer vision (CV) technology. Yong Zhao, Co-founder of UISEE, has worked in the labs of Nvidia, HP, and Google. For a period, he was best known as the core member of Google Glass. 

Yong founded DeepGlint, a CV algorithm startup company, in 2013. DeepGlint has attracted investment from Sequoia Capital China, Samsung, and Hyundai, but then got into trouble due to the difficulty of its algorithms to reach commercialization. As a startup founded by a serial entrepreneurs, UISEE has a thorough plan of bringing its products to market.

UISEE’s core product is the U-Drive autonomous driving system. As a solution provider, UISEE collaborates closely with automotive manufacturers and OEMs. The company showcases its cross-use-case platform U-Drive, which has a system can be widely applied to autonomous passenger cars, unmanned delivery vehicles, and special vehicles for industrial parks and airports. 

The wide product range not only diversifies UISEE’s customers in RoboTaxi and unmanned logistics, but also makes it more robust during market depressions.

Autonomous driving during COVID-19 crisis

The capital market for autonomous vehicles was cooling down during 2019. Capital entered the sector when the autonomous driving concept became popular around 2015 to 2018. The commercialization and profitability of the L4/L5 autonomous driving technology have been postponed again and again due to difficulties in tech development. Capital investors are therefore becoming more cautious in investing new opportunities in the sector.

The unexpected COVID-19 pandemic has created opportunities, however, for the autonomous driving industry.

The previously hot autonomous passenger car (RoboTaxi) is still facing the dilemma.  Zoox, a Silicon Valley autonomous vehicle unicorn which focuses on RoboTaxis, is reportedly seeking acquisitions after raising USD 1 billion since it was established in 2014. 

On the contrary, autonomous driving technology applied in specific scenarios such as industrial areas and airports has become the new market focus.  More detailed information can be found here.

The virus crisis has brought social distance to broader public attention. Products and services that help reduce social contact have become a new concern. Sectors like unmanned delivery, disinfection robots, and automated manufacturing all require autonomous driving technology. Small and special vehicles, instead of passenger automobiles, therefore become the focus of 2020.

Compared with passenger autonomous cars, unmanned delivery vehicles are designed for low-speed tasks and limited scenarios. Simpler surrounding environments make it more likely to be realized in near future. In 2020, startups focusing on unmanned delivery and logistics are more favored by investors.

In February 2020, the peak of the COVID-19 epidemic in China, UISEE received a round B financing from BOSCH, Shenzhen Capital Group Company and CICC Capital. UISEE’s contribution to commercial and industrial autonomous driving solutions has let it get through the hard time.

UISEE has realized several commercialized applications in autonomous vehicles. In 2019, UISEE deployed autonomous electric tractors for Hong Kong International Airport for its logistics service, which is also known as the world’s first unmanned logistics vehicle project. UISEE also collaborated with SAIC Motor for the operation of a factory unmanned logistics system.

By reducing contacts and saving costs, UISEE's products fit customer demands in the post-virus era well. “The unmanned logistics solution of UISEE can reduce more than 56% operational cost compared with traditional logistics systems,” said by UISEE’s co-founder Jinzhan Peng.

Competitors

IDRIVERPLUS

IDRIVERPLUS is a Beijing-based autonomous vehicle startup. It works as a technology provider for automobile manufacturers and OEMs, with core products being autonomous driving solutions and logistics vehicles. IDRIVERPLUS’s business scope is quite similar to UISEE.

Compared with UISEE, IDRIVERPLUS focuses more on specific commercial and industrial autonomous vehicles. It has published commercial end products such as an autonomous driving sweeper and an autonomous driving logistics vehicle.

Founded in 2015, IDRIVERPLUS has received 3 rounds, or tens of millions of dollars of investments, led by Baidu, JD, and several VCs. As reported on May 27, 2020, it just finished USD tens of million round C1 financing. 

TRUNKTECH

TRUNKTECH is devoted to L4 autonomous vehicles, as applied in ports, industrial parks, and mine sites. In contrast to UISEE, it does not participate much in passenger cars but focuses on trunk road autonomous solutions for trucks. Founded in 2017, TRUNKTECH has developed fast in the industrialization of full-stack autonomous driving technologies. Its R&D partners include CNHTC and BOSCH. TRUNKTECH’s business application cases mostly concentrate on port logistics and logistics trucks.

The main investors of TRUNKTECH include BOSCH and iFLYTEK.

Conclusion

It is clear that, in the short term, the downward economics caused by the COVID-19 crisis and twisted development of high-level autonomous driving has made the RoboTaxi technology almost impossible to expect in the market in the next two to three years. Meanwhile, unmanned logistics vehicles working in limited scenarios are more likely to be pushed to the market. UISEE’s strategy of developing cross-use-case platform autonomous systems for passenger cars and dedicated industrial and logistics vehicles is proving to be prescient and is helping it operate efficiently in 2020.

*Contributor: Linyan Feng | Editor: Luke Sheehan
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