The founder and CEO of Toronto-based autonomous driving startup Waabi says her company is on the verge of launching driverless freight trucks that could revolutionize North American supply chains.

Raquel Urtasun told BNN Bloomberg’s Jon Erlichman at the Collision technology conference in Toronto on Wednesday that she started Waabi in 2021 with the goal of introducing cutting-edge artificial intelligence (AI) technology to the physical world.

“When I built Waabi it was really about building this next-generation technology that would enable us to go so much faster and safer than everybody else,” Urtasun said.

Urtasun, a University of Toronto professor and the former chief scientist of Uber’s self-driving unit, is widely considered a world leader in AI and machine learning research, and she’s won over some high-profile investors since Waabi’s founding.

The company announced on Tuesday that it raised US$200 million in Series B funding from backers including Nvidia Corp., Uber Technologies Inc. and Volvo AB.

Urtasun said that Nvidia’s Chief Executive Jensen Huang has taken a personal interest in Waabi, and has been a supporter of her AI research for more than a decade.

In a statement released by Waabi on Tuesday, Huang said he’s “excited to support Raquel’s vision through our investment in Waabi, which is powered by Nvidia technology.”

“I have championed Raquel’s pioneering work in AI for more than a decade. Her tenacity to solve the impossible is an inspiration.”

Waabi intends to use the investment to grow its commercial operations and expand its team in Canada and the U.S., the statement said. The company recently opened a trucking terminal in Texas and expects to officially launch a fleet of driverless trucks as soon as next year.

Capital-efficient approach

Urtasun said that while Waabi’s second round of financing was one of the largest in Canadian history, it’s a relatively small amount of invested capital compared to the company’s major U.S. competitors.

She said this is partly due to Waabi’s approach, which is more capital-efficient than other large companies that are developing autonomous driving tech, like Tesla or Alphabet Inc. through its Waymo subsidiary.

Rather than sending a fleet of vehicles on public roads for training purposes, Waabi uses a digital simulator to design and test different scenarios in order to teach its AI system how to react to real-world challenges.

The company said in the statement that this keeps costs down and gives its self-driving system “human-like reasoning, enabling it to generalize to any situation that might happen on the road, including those it has never seen before.”

Despite the recent fundraising success, Urtasun said that it makes sense for Waabi to remain a private company for the time being, but kept the idea of going public on the table.

“What is definite I can say is that there’s a lot of interest for Waabi potentially being public one day,” she said. “We will see when is the right time and if there is a right time.”

With files from Bloomberg News.