A Deeproute.ai robottaxi on display.
GUANGZHOU, China – Alibaba has led a more than $300 million investment in Chinese autonomous driving start-up DeepRoute.ai.
The Shenzhen-based start-up makes self-driving systems for vehicles that consist of hardware and software. DeepRoute.ai operates a fleet of autonomous taxis, some operated by its partners including ride-hailing firm Caokao and automaker Dongfeng Motors. But the company is also developing technology for logistics.
Alibaba’s participation in the funding round underscores the ambitions of the Chinese tech giant to gain a foothold in the driverless car space. Alibaba is already an investor in another Chinese autonomous driving car start-up called AutoX and is backing electric vehicle maker Xpeng.
Alibaba also has its own logistics arm, called Caniao, which plans to develop self-driving trucks.
Deeproot.AI CEO Maxwell Zhou told CNBC that “most of the money is being spent developing the technology and the rest growing the size of its Robotaxis fleet”. The money will also go toward hiring more talent, Zhou said.
The CEO said the company currently operates about 70 robotaxis and is looking to expand its fleet to between 150 and 160. Half of the robotaxis will be operated by DeepRoute.ai, while the other half will be run by its partners, Zhou said.
In a press release, the company said its long-term strategy includes developing medium-duty trucks for urban logistics, improving transit for shipments as well as freight.
Zhou declined to comment on any specific projects with Alibaba, but said “every opportunity is possible.”
There are few sources of income for DeepRoute.ai. It could charge passengers for its robotaxi service or for a revenue share with a ride-hailing firm. Or it could sell its autonomous driving system to automakers for a one-time fee as well as an annual service fee.
In the logistics space, DeepRoute.ai can run an autonomous driving fleet for a company or sell its driverless technology.
China’s autonomous driving industry is getting very competitive.
Chinese Internet giant Baidu and ride-hailing app Didi are investing in autonomous driving. Several other start-ups in China, including Pony.ai and WeRide, are also investing money in that space. Last week, WeRide launched a new product called RoboWan designed for urban logistics, an area that Deeproute.ai is also exploring.