Level up: VC funding for autonomous vehicles is drying up

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The end-goal for self-driving cars is complete automation, where no human attention or manual input is required — a state known as level 5, on the industry scale for vehicle autonomy. Level 1 automation, which would include features like lane-keeping and cruise control, has been standard on some models for years, and some level 2 features, like steering or acceleration assistance, are now commonplace in high-end vehicles.

Predictions of when fully autonomous cars make their way into mainstream adoption have, historically, been way too optimistic. Elon Musk believes that Tesla is “very close” to delivering on level 4 or 5 self-driving, although it’s worth noting that similar comments have been made by Tesla's head honcho in years gone by. What is easy to predict: getting to level 5 is going to continue requiring an enormous amount of money.

Are we there yet?

Data from Crunchbase reveals that the amount of venture capital funding being poured into AVs has fallen sharply from its peak, and the willingness of industry incumbents to invest billions into projects with uncertain timelines also seems to be fading.

Cruise, for example, reportedly only has 9 months of cash left, having burned through more than $8 billion since 2017, and this week a senior executive at Honda, which has also invested heavily into the company, said it had no plans to invest more. Waymo cut 100 jobs earlier this year, Ford-backed Argo AI has already shut down, and the pivot to electric vehicles is proving enough of an expense for many manufacturers, without the added complication of building full autonomy.

Even as AI hype grows by the day, the road to full self-driving suddenly seems a little longer.

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