The autonomous driving segment has seen an explosion of interest in recent times, with it perhaps being the only niche within the transport market to have attracted stakeholders from varied industries, including automakers, mobility companies, IT and hardware firms. This is due to the nature of self-driving technology, primarily being a software challenge rather than a vehicle design problem.
“In many ways, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are like supercomputers, only weighing a ton and bearing down on you at 60 miles per hour. For autonomy and safety to coexist with AVs, that software has to be reliable,” Jan Becker, CEO and co-founder of Apex.AI, told FreightWaves.
Apex.AI is an autonomous driving startup that builds software on the Robot Operating System (ROS), which is used for the development and deployment of highly safety-critical systems such as AVs, robots and aerospace applications. The startup recently unveiled its proprietary software, Apex.OS, which enables companies to bring safety to the autonomous driving software layer while also reducing the time to commercialization.
Headquartered in Palo Alto, California, Apex.AI was founded in 2017 by Becker and Dejan Pangercic, the startup’s CTO, to develop technology that can launch into products within three years and make mobility safer and more reliable. Apex.OS is built over the ROS — the de facto standard for robotics — that Apex.AI believes will work well as a standard within the self-driving segment.
“ROS is used extensively with AVs because of its rapid prototyping abilities, but we saw it being limited to R&D departments because it lacked the means to work in safety-critical applications. We saw an opportunity to build a bridge from R&D to deployment for ROS and that has been our focus. What Android is to mobility, Apex.OS is to autonomous vehicle safety,” said Becker.
Becker explained that Apex.AI was the first company in the segment to focus solely on improving the safety of autonomous systems via ROS or similar open-source compatible APIs. “Automotive industry initiatives are largely bespoke and internal. Car company A takes one approach to AV safety while car company B takes another. Our unique proposition is that we take an open-source software standard, ROS, and turn it into a software development kit (SDK) for autonomous driving software and other safety-critical mobility applications,” he said.
The challenge that the startup now contends with is scaling up the support of customers and additional hardware platforms to adopt their Apex.OS software. Becker said that this could be done by adding new partners and building a great team to position themselves as leaders in the space.
The Apex.OS solution is the result of more than three years of development, built over the experience of both Becker and Dejan, who had been working on ROS since early 2008. The final product today is the first version of Apex.OS, which will be provided to companies under a commercial license agreement. Users are free to develop their products while having Apex.OS as an underlying software layer.
The company raised $15.5 million in its Series A round in 2018 and followed it up with strategic investments flowing in from the Volvo Group, HELLA, Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota and Airbus. The funding is channeled into product development and in scaling up the team to support their widening customer base.
“We aren’t at liberty to name customers yet, but we are already working with some of the largest automobile manufacturers in the world, some of the fastest-growing autonomous driving startups and the tier-one suppliers that serve them both,” said Becker. “This encompasses cars, trucks, taxis and more and also serves industries such as logistics and construction.”