OpenAI-backed Ghost Autonomy shuts down

Ghost Autonomy, a startup working on self-driving software for partner automakers, has closed its doors, TechCrunch has learned.

The startup, which had raised nearly $220 million, posted a notice on its website saying it had ended its global operations and closed the business on Wednesday. The company employed approximately 100 people and operated in Mountain View, Dallas and Sydney.

“We are proud of the substantial technical innovations and progress the Ghost team has made in its mission to bring software-defined autonomy to the consumer,” its website reads. “The path to long-term profitability was uncertain given the current financing climate and the long-term investments required for autonomy development and commercialization. We are exploring potential long-term destinations for our team’s innovations.

The shutdown comes just five months after the startup partnered with OpenAI through the OpenAI Startup Fund to gain early access to Microsoft’s OpenAI systems and Azure resources. Ghost also received a $5 million investment from OpenAI. It recently closed a $55 million seed round last year, which included early investors Keith Rabois of Founders Fund and Mike Speiser of Sutter Hill Ventures.

At the time, Ghost co-founder and CEO John Hayes touted the company’s plans to explore applications for large multimodal language models (LLMs) — AI models capable of understanding text as well as images – in autonomous driving. He argued that LLMs offered a new way to understand “the long tail”, adding reasoning to complex scenes where current models fail. Experts were skeptical of this approach.

Like so many startups trying to commercialize autonomous vehicle technology, Ghost has changed its approach over the years. The startup, initially called Ghost Locomotion, was founded in 2017. The company made its public debut two years later with a total investment of $63.7 million from Rabois of Founders Fund, Vinod Khosla of Khosla Ventures and Speiser of Sutter Hill Ventures, among others, and a project to develop a kit that will allow private passenger vehicles to drive autonomously on highways. The company has announced that it will deliver this technology in 2020.

After that deadline, Ghost raised another $100 million in 2021 with a modified plan to focus on accident prevention technology. The Series D funding round was led by Sutter Hill Ventures and included Founders Fund and Coatue. Hayes told TechCrunch in 2021 that the startup hasn’t completely closed the door on the consumer kit model, but has turned its attention to universal collision avoidance technology in an effort to get to market faster .

Its premise was that an autonomous driving system did not need to recognize and categorize objects before avoiding them. Instead, the company tracked the movement of groups of pixels in a scene. Most other autonomous systems start by identifying an object and then use image localization to determine its size, distance, and other relevant characteristics. This strategy is used because different objects, even those of the same size, can behave differently.

Hayes, who was contacted by email Wednesday, said the company has finalized a highway driving product and is moving into urban environments through what he described as “last-mile delivery.”

“Ultimately, the years needed to bring the product to market could not be financed,” he wrote.


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