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Greylock and SoftBank are leading a $159 million round into a driverless-car tech startup

Greylock’s Reid Hoffman and SoftBank’s Shu Nyatta will join Nauto’s board as part of the investment.

Some of Nauto’s team, including CEO Stefan Heck in the center, at Playground Studios
Greylock Partners

Greylock Partners and SoftBank are leading a $159 series B round into auto-tech startup Nauto. As part of the investment, Greylock partner and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman as well as SoftBank partner Shu Nyatta will be joining the board.

While Nauto is currently primarily focused on making professional drivers safer with its aftermarket device that uses an inward-facing camera to detect things like distracted driving, the company has already started working with its automaker partners to begin developing the deep-learning algorithms that will enable the cars to drive autonomously.

The company wouldn’t go into much detail about exactly what that development effort with the automakers entailed.

However, some of the automaker partners include Nauto’s previous investors — that have also participated in this round — General Motors Ventures, BMW iVentures, Toyota AI Ventures and a few others, Nauto CEO Stefan Heck told Recode. Andy Rubin’s Playground Global also previously led a $12 million round into the company.

In partnership with Nauto, these companies will use the driver behavior, accident, road and safety data that the devices — which have been deployed in “dozens of fleets” and some of the automakers’ development cars or car-sharing fleets — are collecting to eventually inform the autonomous system.

“In the future, driving will be a networked activity, with tighter feedback loops and a much greater ability to aggregate, analyze and redistribute knowledge,” Hoffman, who went to Stanford with Heck in 1988, said in a statement. “By building a network of vehicles and drivers, Nauto is accelerating the transition from a human-driver dominant world to a safer, more efficient autonomous-driving era.”

In the interim, Nauto is also working on what Heck called “convenience” features — for instance, a feature that keeps a real-time inventory of available parking spots using the external camera and then notifies the other vehicles through the cloud.

Today, the company is working with insurance companies in addition to commercial fleets. The idea is that by using the inward- and outward-facing cameras on Nauto’s second-generation device, the company’s software can detect whether the driver is distracted (by capturing images of the driver’s eyes, chest and head) as well as what is happening on the road.

“This data will help accelerate the development and adoption of safe, effective self-driving technology,” SoftBank Group Corp. Chairman and CEO Masayoshi Son said in a statement.

These various methods of feedback can then help in training professional drivers to become safer, which in turn could help bring down their commercial insurance rates and avoid accidents. It also provides the insurance companies context on what happened on the road and in the car during an accident, which could in turn help insurance claims be more accurate.

This way, Nauto is bringing in revenue while it’s working on its driverless software. That’s unlike many other companies attempting to develop some aspect of the autonomous system.

Heck says the company isn’t actively testing the autonomous software in development cars just yet because the company wants to ensure its technology is able to handle every edge case before it puts it on public roads. For now, the device’s artificial intelligence system is learning how to drive in the background.

This article originally appeared on

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