Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Sunday, July 14, 2024

$400M in Additional Series C Funding Raised by Automotive AI Chip Vendor Horizon Robotics 

Horizon Robotics, a Chinese automotive AI chip startup that is developing specialized, complex chips for use in autonomous vehicles, has raised another $400 million in its latest Series C round of funding.

That’s on top of $150 million in original Series C cash that it secured earlier in December, according to the company, bringing its total Series C money so far to $550 million. Horizon Robotics had announced late in 2020 that it was pursuing a total of $700 million in Series C financing.

The latest $400 million investment was jointly led by Baillie Gifford, Yunfeng Fund, CPE, and CATL, a Chinese battery maker, according to an announcement by the company. Other institutions participating in this round of investment include Aspex Investment, CloudAlpha Tech Fund, Hexuan Capital, Neumann Advisors, Japan ORIX Group, Shandong High Speed ​​Capital, Yingcai Yuan Capital, Yuanti Evergreen Fund and CITIC Construction Investment.

The complete $700 million Series C funding round is called the Horizon Project by the company. The latest funding was unveiled on Jan. 7.

The goal of the Horizon Project investment money is to accelerate the development and commercialization of a new generation of chips for use in Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles and to build an open and successful partner ecosystem, according to the company.

Horizon Robotics says it is “the world's first automotive smart chip startup company based on deep learning technology,” and it claims to have achieved mass production of automotive-grade smart chips. So far, it has “formed a ‘smart driving and smart cockpit’ covering Level 2 to Level 3 autonomous vehicle” use, according to the company.

Karl Freund

Karl Freund, senior analyst for machine learning and HPC for analyst firm Moor Insights & Strategy, told EnterpriseAI that the investments received by the company continue to grow.

“Horizon has received significant investments ($600 million) in the past when Kai Yu left Baidu to start the firm some five years ago,” said Freund. “Dr. Yu is highly respected, having published dozens of papers and was a professor at Stanford University. Yes, this is a lot of money, but less than Dr. Yu was seeking, according to media reports.”

Another analyst, Rob Enderle, principal of Enderle Group, said the challenges for Horizon Robotics are numerous.

“They are entering a market dominated by Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Intel, three of the most influential technology companies in the world,” said Enderle. “They are doing this when Chinese vendors are under a cloud due to government ownership, which is even more problematic because cars can’t pivot on technology quickly due to regulatory and design constraints.”

What Horizon will have to do to meet these challenges, said Enderle, is gain more arm’s length from the Chinese government and find ways to expand its business with Western Europe, South Korean and U.S. carmakers. Those goals may be severely limited, even if Horizon Robotics’ chips are competitive technically, he said.

Rob Enderle

“This restriction may change under the Biden administration, which is more likely to restrict countries than companies, compared to the Trump administration,” said Enderle. “Still, that upside may not emerge before year-end. Fortunately, this market is still young, but designs are being developed for cars due out mid-decade, so Horizon doesn’t have a great deal of time to address this problem.”

In addition, “both Intel and Nvidia are already showcasing Level 5 systems in trial and simulation, so Horizon talking about bringing to market a Level 2-3 solution makes them look obsolete,” said Enderle. “This may be a perception. Still, it is a dangerous one for any small emerging firm.”

Horizon Robotics said it will launch the industry's flagship Journey 5 chip for L3/L4 autonomous driving in the first half of 2021. The chip is based on the automotive functional safety (ISO 26262) product development process system certified by the authority SGS TÜV Saar. The chips include up to 96 TOPS of artificial intelligence computing power, while supporting 16-channel camera perception calculation, with performance exceeding the current world's leading mass-produced autopilot chip, Tesla FSD, according to the company.

Following that, Horizon plans to launch its Journey 6 chips, which are more powerful automotive smart chips that use a car-grade 7nm process, and artificial intelligence computing power exceeding 400 TOPS, according to the company.

It was a busy week for AI chip companies. Also on Jan. 7, Enflame Technology, a Chinese AI startup developing deep learning chips for AI training, announced that it had secured another $278.5 million in funding from government and industry investors.