A start-up aims to bring driverless cars to Indian roads

Self-driving vehicle start-up Minus Zero raises $1.7 million seed round led by Chiratae Ventures

Minus Zero, co-founded by Gagandeep Reehal and Gursimran Kalra, aims to make autonomous vehicles popular in India. Last year in April it had successful tested its prototype, an autonomous electric rickshaw, in Jalandhar, Punjab.

“It was able to identify traffic, obstacles, parking spaces and lanes, and manoeuvre accordingly,” Reehal told FE. “Going forward, our aim is to have our own autonomous vehicle fleet, so that the public is able to ride in autonomous vehicles like they do in conventional cabs today.

”On Monday, it announced it is gearing up for its next stage of development, having raised a seed round of $1.7 million led by Chiratae Ventures, along with participation from JITO Angel Network, and a stalwart profile of angels from AV ecosystem including senior executives from Nvidia and Lyft based out of Silicon Valley, among several others.

“With a holistic combination of a purely camera-based vision and algorithms that can easily adapt to unprecedented traffic scenarios, we are headed towards making driverless vehicles not only affordable but also a reality much sooner,” Reehal added.

“Our vision is to accelerate the world’s transition to driverless mobility, bypassing the conventions of expensive HD maps, Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), extensive data collection and mini super-computers that are being mistaken for the only way towards an autonomous vehicle reality.

”Minus Zero believes that the complexity of self-driving cars can be solved not by stacking up more sensors or petabytes of data, but by making the AI more intuitive, similar to the way our brain handles decision making.

“In a race to market where billions have already been spent by trillion-dollar tech giants, this differentiated approach of Minus Zero may prove to be a game-changer in the self-driving vehicle ecosystem,” he said.

“We are eyeing a more scalable AV platform that can easily expand to new geographies, varied use-cases and diverse vehicle platforms with minimal modifications.”

The seed round is being trumpeted as the first time an Indian self-driving car company has attracted prime venture capital within a few months of getting started in a country where self-driving still seems relatively hard to solve.

TCM Sundaram, founder & vice-chairman of Chiratae Ventures, said, “Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are no more a thing of the future and need to become a reality now.

Scaling AV adoption beyond the current limited usage in specific cities and high-end cars requires a re-imagination beyond relying on expensive technologies like Lidar and training over millions of hours of data.

Further, emerging markets like India with difficult and unstructured driving conditions, the approach to AV needs to be novel and specifically tailored.

The Minus Zero team brings a fresh approach to AV and build for mass adoption in entry and mid-level cars and emerging markets.”The funding will be primarily utilised for building an autonomous vehicle R&D infrastructure and expanding the current team to get the vehicle out on roads.

The team is eyeing a public launch of their first AV use-case in late 2022 to early 2023, which is expected to make them one of the first few companies in this ecosystem to get a product out in the market.Reehal and Kalra founded Minus Zero in 2021 while still in their undergrad. The prototype they successfully tested in Jalandhar relied solely on a monocular camera for sensing and using compute much less than what one might use to play modern computer games.

Reehal, who is also the CEO & CTO of Minus Zero, said, “Our proprietary approach towards self-driving mimics human intuition, giving the software an ability to gain confident insights even with lesser data inputs.

This enables robust decision making, which is crucial for safe navigation in scenarios where extrinsic factors like poor traffic infrastructure, rash driving, harsh weather, etc, would have otherwise compromised with safety.

”COO Kalra added: “With notable backers like Chiratae and others on-board, we look forward to building this path-breaking technology for the world, right here from India.Vidura Capital advised the company on their maiden institutional fundraise. In September 2021, Minus Zero had raised an undisclosed pre-seed/angel round.

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