Nauto Backs into the Driverless Car


Palo Alto, California-based Nauto uses deep learning to enable dashboard-mounted cameras and other image sensors to alert drivers about oncoming traffic, lights, and other hazards. Deep learning also enables Nauto’s cameras to recognize when a collision is imminent, so they can record the events. Images and data about the accident are stored in the cloud for sharing with a fleet manager, insurance company, and/or the police via Nauto’s mobile app. Founded in 2015 by Stefan Heck and Fredrick Soo, Nauto raised $12 million in Series A funding in April and has received additional investments from Toyota, BMW, and Allianz.

Benefits of Accident Avoidance

Every year, 1.2 million people worldwide die in traffic accidents. Many more are injured and maimed. Nauto promises to make it easier for drivers to avoid accidents.

Self-Driving Challenges

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has defined different levels of self-driving, ranging from complete driver control to complete autonomy. These levels have been extended by other organizations, such as the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).

  • Level 0: This level indicates that there is complete human control of all aspects of driving: steering, brakes, and gas.
  • Level 1: Most functions are under human control with one (like anti-lock brakes) done automatically. The car acts as a sort of guardian angel.
  • Level 2: At least two functions are automated so the “driver is disengaged from physically operating the vehicle by having his or her hands off the steering wheel AND foot off pedal at the same time.” The driver must be ready to take control of the car at any time.
  • Level 3: The driver must be prepared to take control of the vehicle in unusual conditions. This is analogous to the current state of autopilots in aviation.
  • Level 4: The self-driving vehicle is “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip.” This level is also known in the industry as “chauffeur” mode.
  • Level 5: The self-driving vehicle does not have any option for human control.

From the industry’s perspective, chauffeur mode has a number of disadvantages. In chauffeur mode, the vehicle must drive itself 100% of the time. The manufacturer (under current laws) must assume 100% liability. Therefore, it cannot be deployed until it works almost perfectly.

In the guardian angel mode, automation only takes place when there is trouble. Unless you are a very bad driver, it is only active 1% of the time, or less. Liability remains mostly with the driver. Guardian angel autonomy can be implemented much sooner.

Chauffeur mode offers the most benefits for self-driving cars. In the United States alone, there are 45 million elderly people, 21 million persons with vision impairment, 18 million children between the ages of 12 and 16, and 12 million alcoholics. Although the categories overlap, to some extent, there are 70 to 80 million people whose lives could be changed by this level of driving. So, guardian angel solutions like Nauto’s are expected to evolve over time to reach level 5 autonomy.


Companies like Nauto provide evidence to support Tractica’s forecast that the automotive industry is poised to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) extensively in the future. Our Artificial Intelligence for Enterprise Applications report forecasts that spending in this sector on software alone will grow to over $1 billion by 2025, which is a bright future for companies like Nauto that are entering the market.


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