Big tech firms invest in Chch-raised engineer's AI for self-driving cars

Former Christ's College student Alex Kendall is developing AI technology for self-driving...
Former Christ's College student Alex Kendall is developing AI technology for self-driving vehicles. Photo: University of Auckland
Christchurch-raised tech entrepreneur Alex Kendall has raised $1.7 billion to develop a cutting-edge artificial intelligence system for self-driving vehicles.

Kendall grew up in Christchurch and went to Christ's College. He studied engineering at the University of Auckland and then earned his PhD from the prestigious Trinity College Cambridge in England.

Kendall co-founded the AI start-up, Wayve, in London in 2017. The company now employs about 300 people.

Wayve received NZ$1.7 billion from Japanese venture capital firm SoftBank Group and tech firms, Microsoft and NVIDIA, to develop and launch the first "embodied AI" technology for self-driving vehicles.

Kendall said unlike the cognitive AI being developed by companies such as OpenAI and Google to simulate human-like text and images, Wayve's embodied AI allows automated vehicles to interact with and learn from their surroundings.

It will greatly improve the safety of self-driving vehicles by using cameras and sensors to make real-time decisions.

"This investment will help us launch our embodied AI products and expand our operations globally," Kendall told The Guardian.

"It sends a crucial signal to the market of the strength of the UK’s AI ecosystem, and we look forward to watching more AI companies here thrive and scale."

After graduating from the University of Auckland with a Bachelor of Engineering (honours) in mechatronics engineering, Kendall specialised in AI deep learning, computer vision and robotics at Trinity College.

He received a top 40 Under 40 award at the University of Auckland in 2020 and has made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list.

Kendall said in 2020 that self-driving vehicles was “the space race of my generation ... and will completely change society".

“The ability to move is so central to our happiness, and self-driving cars will make this safe, sustainable, accessible and efficient.”

Wayve was one of the first companies to test AI autonomous driving systems on public roads.

Earlier this week, The Standard reported Kendall's net worth grew to £400 million (NZ$829 million) after the latest funding boost.