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Millions in seed funding for 'Intel Inside' autonomous vehicles

Founded by MIT professors and field-tested in Singapore, nuTonomy believes decision-making software is the key to a smooth ride in a self-driving car.

Unless you live in Singapore, chances are good you've never heard of nuTonomy, a developer of advanced software for autonomous vehicles. The company, which was founded by Drs. Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli of MIT, believes its decision-making tech will soon become the software engine for the smartest self-driving vehicles on the planet.

In fact, nuTonomy's goal is to become the "Intel Inside" of the auto industry, and last week it got a step closer with $3.6M in seed funding from investors Signal Ventures, Samsung Ventures, Fontinalis (an investment firm co-founded by Bill Ford), and Dr. Steven LaValle, a principle developer of the Oculus Rift.

NuTonomy's secret sauce is a new technique for decision-making based on methods previously used in the development of spacecraft, airplanes and other complex automated vehicles. Current approaches to automated driving rely on cumbersome, rigid decision-making logic, which results in vehicles that frequently drive in an overly cautious, jerky, uncertain manner. nuTonomy-guided vehicles, by contrast, take smooth lines and make easy corrections.

The company already has multiple customers in the auto industry, including Jaguar and Land Rover.

Co-founder and CTO Emilio Frazzoli tested his tech when he directed the first open-to-the-public pilot of on-demand automated vehicles. The pilot, which took place in Singapore in 2014, enabled more than 500 Singaporean citizens to request driverless transportation throughout the Jurong Lake Gardens, a central public park, using their phones. It's like Uber for Uber.

That experience was led by SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology), and helped prove the demand for autonomous vehicle technology in Singapore to government and private industry. nuTonomy has been building on the Singapore experience to develop technology for city-wide management of autonomous vehicle fleets in urban settings.

The seed round funding will help support nuTonomy's continued work in the U.S. as well as in Singapore, where industry and government are jointly piloting autonomous vehicle technology. nuTonomy's software is currently being tested by automotive partners in both the U.S. and Europe, with the goal of deploying self-driving features within the next few years.