Nauto, a Palo Alto company focused on retrofitting existing vehicle fleets with networked safety camera-equipped devices, has raised $159 million in a Series B round led by SoftBank (which has been quite spendy lately). The company’s products focus on gathering data about human drivers and their behavior in order to improve safety practices right now, but their platform also has a second, potentially more lucrative purpose: building a huge data set that can prove very valuable in the development of self-driving cars.
That’s where SoftBank’s interest lies, according to CEO Masayoshi Son, who noted in a statement that “Nauto is generating a highly valuable dataset for autonomous driving, at a massive scale,” in addition to establishing itself as a telematics business that can produce revenue right now, while simultaneously amassing a library of data from a huge cumulative pool of real-world driving hours.
The potential value of this data for autonomous driving is a big reason why a number of automakers have also made strategic investments in Nauto, including General Motor Ventures, Toyota AI Ventures and BMW iVentures. This funding will help really accelerate the pace of that data gathering effort, giving Nauto the ability to “more rapidly… gather the billions more miles of real driving experience and data required to get a precise understanding of how the best drivers behave behind the wheel,” according to Nauto CEO Stefan Heck.
Nauto’s tech uses a dual-camera windshield-mounted device, with one camera facing inward tracking driver behavior and the other facing outward to monitor the road. The company employs deep learning and computer vision to process the data collected by its units in the cloud, and provide insights and coaching services to counter things like driver distraction and fatigue.
One of the big advantages of Nauto as a stepping stone to autonomy, however, is the cost of deployment — its hardware is relatively inexpensive and can be used immediately with vehicles on the road today, following a simple installation process. One of self-driving’s biggest challenges remains a simple issue of volume, and Nauto is positioned well to help address that because of its low friction, low cost and immediate returned value to fleet operators.