Chinese Self-Driving Startup QCraft Enters Into Partnership With Nvidia, Aiming to Commercialize and Mass Produce Level 4 Robobuses and Robotaxis

QCraft, a Chinese startup co-founded by four former engineers of Google’s driverless car project Waymo, announced on Wednesday that the company will adopt U.S. computer graphics giant Nvidia’s Drive Orin automotive system-on-a-chip (SoC) to power its third-generation Level 4 self-driving hardware solution.

Dubbed “Driven-by-QCraft,” the startup’s self-developed autonomous driving hardware solution employs a multi-sensor fusion method, consisting of two long-range measurement lidars, three short-range blind spot-filling lidars, four millimeter-wave radars, nine cameras and one inertial measurement unit set. Apart from the powerful sensor system, which can achieve 360-degree blind spot-free perception, every module also includes a computing platform, a power system and a communication system.

According to QCraft, the self-driving hardware solution it provides can be installed in a range of automotive models, including sedans, buses and mini-buses. Currently, the startup operates a fleet of more than 100 driverless vehicles equipped with the Driven-by-QCraft solution in 10 cities globally. The system can also function within various scenarios like urban congestion, storms and tunnels.

“We’re trying to find a balance between safety and universality to make sure that our autonomous driving solution can be applied to diverse vehicles and scenarios while focusing on safety first,” Cong Hou, QCraft’s co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO), said in a press event Wednesday.

To accelerate large-scale application and commercialization of its self-driving technology, QCraft joins a cohort of industry peers, including Volvo, Nio, XPeng and Li Auto, to build up automated driving capabilities on the Nvidia Orin SoC, a super processor integrating multiple applications into one single chip.

Typically, vehicle functions are controlled by tens of electronic control units distributed throughout a vehicle. But Orin can replace these components by centralizing control of core domains including visualization, digital clusters, infotainment and passenger interaction AI. The SoC will simplify what has been an incredibly complex supply chain for automakers and help them reduce production costs.

Nvidia, the world’s largest graphics and artificial intelligence chip manufacturer, positioned its Orin SoC as the “new mega brain” of software-defined autonomous vehicles.

Slated for 2022 vehicle production lines, Orin processes more than 254 trillion operations per second while achieving systematic safety standards such as ISO 26262 ASIL-D.

“Key to our commercialization efforts, we’re turning to the Nvidia Drive Orin to enable these next-generation solutions that deliver a greener, more sustainable future without sacrificing performance or safety,” CTO Hou remarked.

The solution will enable vehicles to achieve “Level 4” automation, meaning the routes are chosen by humans but there is no one behind the wheel and the car can avoid obstacles on its own. Tesla’s Autopilot system is considered Level 2, which means the car can carry out the steering and acceleration independently, but the driver must still be ready to take the wheel should the need arise.

Founded by executives who used to work at autonomous-driving pioneers including Waymo, Tesla and Uber, Silicon Valley-based QCraft acquired a California public road test permit in July 2019, only four months after its inception. In December 2019, the company shifted its focus from the U.S. to China, opening offices in Beijing, Suzhou and Shenzhen.

The autonomous future of driving promised by QCraft has helped the company attract high-profile investors including food delivery giant Meituan’s venture arm Long-Z Capital, IDG Capital, Genesis Capital and Lenovo Capital.

In March, Bloomberg cited unnamed sources in reporting that TikTok owner ByteDance had participated in a fundraising round of QCraft in which the startup raised at least $25 million.

QCraft completed its $100 million Series A+ financing round in August, which has put the company on track towards the “unicorn” club, which refers to startups with a valuation of at least $1 billion, domestic media outlet LatePost reported.

Last month, the startup launched China’s first driverless bus supporting a 5G-based ride-hailing function in the eastern city of Wuxi, which allows passengers to request pick-ups and tracking of their bus’ real-time location via a WeChat mini-program. According to QCraft, the 5G-connected ride-sharing unmanned bus has created a new business model and helped the company cross boundaries between robotaxis and robobuses.

SEE ALSO: Chinese Self-Driving Startup QCraft Launches the Country’s First 5G-Based Ride-Share Driverless Bus, Blurring the Line between Robobuses and Robotaxis