Waabi fuels up to launch fully driverless trucks in 2025 with $275-million CAD Series B

Waabi founder and CEO Raquel Urtasun.
Uber and Khosla double down as Nvidia, Porsche, IKEA join Toronto AV startup’s cap table.

Canadian artificial intelligence (AI) leader Raquel Urtasun’s Toronto-based autonomous vehicle (AV) startup Waabi has secured $275 million CAD ($200 million USD) in Series B financing and announced plans to deliver fully driverless, generative AI-powered trucks in 2025. 

The all-equity, all-primary round, which closed this week, was co-led by a pair of existing San Francisco-based Waabi investors: ride-hailing giant Uber and venture capital (VC) firm Khosla Ventures. Supporting investors included a slew of new strategic backers, including chip giant Nvidia, automaker Porsche, and retailer IKEA’s investment arm, Ingka Investments.

“I’m just really excited about where we are today.”

Raquel Urtasun, Waabi founder and CEO

Waabi’s latest funding comes three years after Urtasun—formerly Uber’s chief scientist and head of its self-driving unit—launched Waabi out of stealth with $100 million CAD in Series A capital. To start, Waabi has set its sights on long-haul trucking, where it sees room to help address the industry’s labour shortages, safety concerns, and supply chain issues.

Urtasun said Waabi now has the tech, the team, the partners, and the cash it needs to take the drivers out of its vehicles, achieve Level 4 autonomy, and begin bringing completely autonomous trucks to market to fulfill commercial deliveries starting next year with Texas.

“I’m just really excited about where we are today,” Urtasun told BetaKit in an interview. “We continue executing. We have not been distracted by anything else.”

Waabi’s Series B round marks a particularly large financing amid challenging market conditions. Urtasun attributed this to Waabi’s novel approach to self-driving and rapid progress in a short time, including unveiling its AI brain (Waabi Driver) and simulator (Waabi World), partnering with players like Uber Freight and Nvidia, beginning road testing, and launching commercial operations with humans aboard on public roads in Texas.

“The next big milestone is our driverless launch … If you look at all the milestones that we have achieved in only three years, with very little capital compared to the rest of the industry, it was a very natural point to fundraise for the next round of capital that will enable us to go to driverless launch and beyond,” said Urtasun.

RELATED: Waabi to use Nvidia chip to power autonomous trucking solution

Other new investors in the round include Export Development Canada, transportation-focused Scania, Boston-based, Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative-backed HarbourVest Partners, California’s G2 Venture Partners, and German mobility VC firm Incharge Capital Partners. 

Existing investors BDC Capital (which previously backed Waabi through the Women in Technology (WIT) Venture Fund and has reinvested via its Thrive Venture Fund), Volvo’s venture arm, and Toronto AI investor Radical Ventures also participated.

“We have an incredible roster of investors,” Urtasun said. With its Series B round, she believes that Waabi has taken a big step towards building “an ecosystem of partners that actually will enable self-driving at scale,” with representation from across computing, AI, automotive, and logistics, plus traditional investment firms to help ensure the company’s financial future.

The fundraise brings Waabi’s total funding to over $389 million CAD, from a group that also includes fellow AV company Aurora, OMERS Ventures, and AI experts like Geoffrey Hinton, Fei-Fei Li, Pieter Abbeel, and Sanja Fidler. Urtasun declined to disclose the company’s valuation, but claimed Waabi’s Series B financing was an up round relative to its Series A round and came at “an exciting number.”

“We just see the company continuing to disrupt the industry, and frankly, even lead in this space,” BDC Capital WIT and Thrive Venture Fund managing partner Michelle Scarborough told BetaKit. “We doubled down for that reason. We’re super impressed with everything they have accomplished since 2021. They made all of their milestones and then some.”

Scarborough credited Urtasun’s leadership, the strength of the team she has assembled, and Waabi’s “generative AI-first approach” to self-driving, claiming that Waabi’s competitors are using a “hardware-first” strategy that involves more road testing.

RELATED: Gatik secures $41 million CAD from Isuzu Motors as pair expands partnership to build autonomous trucks

AVs have historically been cost-intensive to develop, difficult to scale, and created safety concerns. Years of limited progress on self-driving tech development, dangerous incidents, and tough economic conditions have fuelled what Urtasun previously described to BetaKit as a “winter of AV” that has seen big players and billions in value wiped out.

Waabi is betting on “AV 2.0,” a strategy that involves prioritizing generative AI and comes with its own challenges. “It’s very clear that the evolution of generative AI in the physical world is really going to change the entire game of robotics, and self-driving in particular,” Urtasun said.

Waabi World and generative AI have enabled the startup to virtually train Waabi Driver before it hits the road. Urtasun has argued that this approach is far cheaper, safer, and more scalable than traditional road testing-first development strategies.

“They made all of their milestones and then some.”

It allows Waabi’s AI brain to be trained both in real-time and through its simulator, Waabi World, Scarborough said, adding, “that train-the-trainer capability, if you will, is very unique to this company and is, frankly, their competitive advantage.”

Urtasun, a University of Toronto computer science professor who also co-founded the Toronto AI research hub Vector Institute, has spent most of her career developing new AI technologies and figuring out how to apply them to the physical world. For Urtasun, this round marks “exciting times” for Waabi, the AV industry, and Canada more broadly. 

The Waabi CEO believes Canada needs more companies to make more “big, bold bets” geared towards transforming the world. “We need more of this,” said Urtasun, who added that she hopes Waabi’s example will inspire more Canadian tech entrepreneurs to do the same.

For her part, Scarborough is bullish on Waabi’s chances to make a mark in the self-driving tech sector. “I really think that [Urtasun] and Waabi have a really great opportunity to compete on the global stage.”

Feature image courtesy Waabi.

Josh Scott

Josh Scott

Josh Scott is a BetaKit reporter focused on telling in-depth Canadian tech stories and breaking news. His coverage is more complete than his moustache. He was also the winner of SABEW Canada’s 2023 Jeff Sanford Best Young Journalist award.

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