Seoul Robotics has taken a different path on the road to commercializing autonomous vehicles. Instead of developing and building the entire self-driving system, including sensors, into a vehicle, Seoul is turning to the surrounding infrastructure to do some of the heavy lifting.
And his contrarian approach attracted a new group of investors and $25 million in venture funding. The Series B financing was led by KB Investment, according to Seoul Robotics.
“Instead of equipping the vehicles themselves with sensors, we’re equipping the surrounding infrastructure with sensors,” Seoul Robotics vice president of products and solutions Jerone Floor said in August, when the company partnered with NVIDIA.
The company’s infrastructure platform for autonomous vehicles, called Level 5 Control Tower (or LV5 CTRL TWR) together with its branded Sensr software, collects information from sensors such as cameras and lidars (light detection and ranging radar), as well as other data stored in the cloud, and then sends it to vehicles.
According to Seoul Robotics CEO Hanbin Lee, the LV5 CTRL TWR uses automatic transmission and connectivity built into the vehicles to maneuver them autonomously without requiring hardware.
Seoul Robotics claims its LV5 CTRL TWR helps provide information about the environment and select the safest path for the vehicle.
The infrastructure platform manages the car’s functions such as lane keeping and brake assist through its technology called “autonomy through infrastructure (ATI)” and a V2X (vehicle-to-everything) communication system that sends information from a vehicle to any surrounding infrastructure and other vehicles.
Founded in 2017 by four co-founders, Seoul Robotics is now working with global OEMs (OEMs) such as BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, Qualcomm and LG Uplus to diversify the use of its system.
“We are currently in discussions with about nine more global OEMs for partnerships,” Lee said.
Lee also said that one of its most unique features is that its Sensr software, launched in 2018, allows users to select a sensor or multiple sensors that best suit their needs, meaning customers can to choose services based on their requirements and budget.
“While Sensr is still the backbone of our product offerings, including the LV5 CTRL TWR, the types of solutions we offer are much more sophisticated compared to 2018,” Lee told TechCrunch. “We now offer three plug-and-play LiDAR development kits that include all the components any organization needs to set up with a 3D system.” In addition, it provides solutions tailored to a specific application, such as pedestrian safety , rail obstacle detection and Level 5 autonomy, Lee continued.
Lee explained that the earliest LiDAR-based sensing software was developed by sensor manufacturers, and the software had to be coupled with the hardware. “With this approach, the challenge was that each sensor had different strengths and weaknesses; some have a wide field of view but short range, others have a narrow field of view and long range,” Lee said. “It’s also not possible to mix and match sensors we log into.”
Last week, the company released a feature that uses LiDAR and its Sensr software to detect and warn of wrong-way driving. Seoul Robotics says the wrong-way detection feature is being deployed on highways and freeways in California, Florida and Tennessee, as well as in Europe and Asia.
With the latest funding, the startup plans to expand its team and expand Sensr’s applications to bring its automated vehicle technology to other potential partners in industries such as logistics (car rental fleets, truck fleets and automated parking systems ), smart cities and security, Lee said. Other investors include Noh and Partners, Future Play, Korean Development Bank, Artesian and Access Ventures also participated in the Series B round.
The company, headquartered in Seoul with offices in Munich, California and Raleigh, raised $6 million in Series A in 2020.