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Apple nabs self-driving car tech with Drive.ai acquisition

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A self-driving SUV produced by Uber and Volvo.
(Eva Hambach / AFP/Getty Images)

Apple has bought a struggling self-driving car startup as the iPhone maker continues to explore the potential market for robotic vehicles, despite recently curtailing its work on the technology.

The Cupertino, Calif., company confirmed its acquisition of Drive.ai Wednesday without disclosing the price. A recent filing with California labor regulators disclosed that Drive.ai planned to close its doors this Friday, laying off 90 workers.

Apple didn’t say whether its deal included the engineers who were set to lose their jobs with Drive.ai. Apple trimmed the size of its own self-driving car division in January when it reportedly eliminated more than 200 jobs in the division.

The deal gives Apple the rights to Drive.ai technology deployed in self-driving vans that had been giving short-distance rides in two Texas cities, Arlington and Frisco.

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Founded in 2015 by alumni of Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, the startup had raised $77 million in venture capital from investors including GGV Capital and New Enterprise Associates. It had not raised new funding since September 2017, according to Crunchbase.

Uber, meanwhile, confirmed Wednesday that it acquired a self-driving technology company called Mighty AI. As part of that deal, 40 employees from Mighty AI’s Seattle office will work at the ride-hailing giant’s Seattle engineering facility.

Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, has offered changing estimates for how close the company is to putting driverless “robo-taxis” on the streets. As recently as last year he was predicting they would arrive in 2019, “not as a test case, as a real case out there.” More recently, he has dialed that back, saying in May it will be “quite a few years” until fully autonomous taxis are ready for deployment.


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