Hours before self-driving start-up Drive.ai was scheduled to close its doors and lay off all of its staff, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) swooped in to buy the company.
Drive.ai, an autonomous driving shuttle service once valued at $200 million, is believed to have been purchased by Apple for less than the $77 million Drive.ai raised from venture capital sources.
The company had been on the market looking for potential suitors since February. Drive.ai was reported to be laying off workers and had ceased operations over the last two weeks. Dozens of those workers, mostly engineering and product design staff, have been picked-up by Apple.
Drive.ai’s bright orange minivans began operating in October 2018 near Dallas Cowboys stadium, the Texas Rangers stadium, Arlington Convention Center and CenterPoint office complex as an on-demand ride hailing service. The service was piloted in a business park in Frisco, Texas in May 2018.
Drive.ai was founded in Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab by graduate students and was able to secure initial seed funding of $12 million. In June 2017, the Mountain View, California company announced it had raised $50 million in a Series B funding round. In September 2017, Drive.ai secured another $15 million in funding led by Grab, a Southeast Asia transportation and mobile payments company.
Some close to the deal have suggested that the Drive.ai acquisition was more of an acquisition of talent as Apple pursues its own autonomous efforts. Apple’s autonomous vehicle effort, known as Project Titan, has been in the works for a couple of years now. Apple hasn’t commented on its plans for the acquisition and it remains unknown if Drive.ai’s current service will continue.
In May 2018, Apple partnered with Volkswagen AG (U.S. OTC: VLKAF) to use its T6 Transporter van along with Apple’s autonomous technology to shuttle employees around Apple Park in Cupertino, California.