Pony.ai, the self-driving startup that operates in each the U.S. and China, has misplaced at the least two executives from its trucking crew following the mixture of the corporate’s passenger automobile and self-driving truck R&D groups.
The event, initially detailed by two sources acquainted with the inner restructure that occurred quietly in September, was later confirmed by Pony. The Toyota-backed startup mentioned the restructuring was made as a result of combining the groups would result in extra environment friendly outcomes.
Nevertheless, the transfer has known as into query Pony’s plans for commercially creating autonomous trucking expertise, particularly in america.
Frank (Zhenhao) Pan, one of many executives who not too long ago resigned, was the chief expertise officer for Pony’s trucking enterprise. The crew he led included senior engineers of the autonomous truck driving crew within the U.S., which has dissolved within the current restructure. At the least 5 members on that crew, which beforehand had 20 employees, have left the corporate, an individual acquainted with the departures advised FiratNews. The remaining had been transferred to different enterprise traces inside Pony, though plenty of them have additionally expressed dissatisfaction concerning the reorg, the particular person mentioned.
Pan and one other colleague, Youhan Solar, who used to guide planning and management for Pony’s trucking enterprise within the U.S., left to start out one other self-driving truck firm collectively, Qingtian Sensible Trucking Know-how. Based on Tianyancha, a Chinese language database that compiles enterprise information, Zhenhao owns 82% of Qingtian and Youhan owns 18%.
Solar Haowen, former head of planning and management for Pony’s autonomous driving in China, additionally left following the merger, in response to China’s LatePost. He has gone on to work at Qiangua Know-how, an organization that focuses on Stage 4 autonomous trucking expertise.
Pony.ai’s thwarted IPO
Till August this 12 months, Pony was gearing as much as go public in New York with a $12 billion valuation via a SPAC merger. The corporate put these plans on maintain because it struggled to realize assurances from Beijing that it wouldn’t turn out to be the subsequent goal of a crackdown towards Chinese language expertise firms going public within the U.S., Reuters reported. Pony says it’s an American firm with headquarters in Silicon Valley. Nevertheless, a lot of its operations, together with all of its self-driving truck testing, happen in China, a rustic that exerts appreciable regulatory energy over autonomous automobile firms.
Pony does have some operations within the U.S., notably in California, the place it checks passenger automobiles outfitted with autonomous automobile expertise. The corporate has been testing its AVs on public roads in California since 2017. It was even offering a drivered passenger service in Irvine, California till service was suspended as a result of pandemic. The service ought to return in 2022, the corporate says.
Pony’s SPAC deal would have given the startup a further $1.2 billion to play with, however for the reason that itemizing was reportedly blocked, Pony has needed to assume just a little in another way about its funds and the allocation of assets, in response to LatePost. Pony declined to touch upon its IPO, however an absence of assets could possibly be the explanation the 2 R&D groups had been mixed.
A brief historical past of PonyTron
The corporate established a separate trucking division in 2020, which it branded PonyTron on the finish of March. It was actively hiring for the division, Pony confirmed. The crew had grown to about 100 folks by September, in response to LatePost. Whereas PonyTron was rising quick, it nonetheless lagged by way of whole workforce in comparison with others within the self-driving vans business. TuSimple’s R&D crew is about 1,000 folks, for example.
Pony, whereas demonstrating potential, was nonetheless lagging by way of assets. Now recruitment has slowed almost to a halt and highway checks for vans primarily based within the U.S. have been suspended, FiratNews’s supply confirmed.
Pony denied that it had deliberately slowed its hiring in trucking, saying it has sufficient employees and can proceed to fill roles as wanted. The corporate additionally mentioned it has the identical approximate headcount engaged on trucking and auto as earlier than, with plans to proceed to rent in trucking to help future development.
Divide and conquer?
The present trucking employees on the newly mixed R&D crew are primarily junior engineers, since many of the senior ones left, in response to an individual with information of the matter. The supply mentioned at the least a few of the senior engineers believed strongly that good trucking and passenger vans needs to be separate, not mixed. Many consultants within the business agree it makes extra sense to coach completely different fashions for various use instances. Passenger automobiles normally go to market as robotaxis, which are sometimes educated to drive in city environments. Vans, which carry freight between cities, are sometimes educated to drive on highways.
Some firms, like Aurora and Waymo, have been identified to comply with an identical method to Pony and mix forces, saying experiences discovered by one driver can profit others. Others are inclined to concentrate on one or the opposite as a result of they are saying it’s a quicker and extra direct path to market, which can permit for a greater enterprise and probably room sooner or later to maneuver into different markets. For instance, Kodiak Robotics, TuSimple and Einride all work to resolve the issue of freeway driving, whereas firms like Motional, Cruise and Argo AI focus particularly on passenger automobiles and smaller supply automobiles which are educated for city autonomy.
“All of it comes right down to administration as a result of the expertise behind them is analogous,” a former Pony worker advised FiratNews. “From a purely technological viewpoint, passenger automobiles and vans could possibly be labored on collectively. However when an organization reaches such a scale, I feel there are appreciable obstacles if the 2 are mixed.”
“Should you combine the expertise, who’s liable for the product on the finish of the day?” mentioned the one who requested to not be named.
Pony mentioned each its robotaxi and trucking operations have at all times included city and freeway use instances and that the corporate stays equally targeted on international robotaxi and trucking, including that the reorganization has not modified its go-to market in China, at the least.
“To extend our engineering effectivity — and recognizing the various overlaps between digital truck driver and digital auto driver, in each coding and testing, particularly in China — we optimized our R&D processes,” a Pony spokesperson advised FiratNews. “We now have the identical approximate headcount engaged on trucking and auto as earlier than, however the engineering course of is now extra fluid and built-in.”
The spokesperson went on to say Pony is continuous to put money into its trucking enterprise, “and we’ve got made important progress on that entrance, which we hope to announce shortly.”
Pony can also be nonetheless targeted on scaling robotaxis right into a industrial service past Irvine and into different elements of California. In Could this 12 months, Pony obtained a allow from the California Division of Motor Autos to check absolutely driverless AVs on public roads, and the corporate says it’s been testing each driverless and drivered AVs on public roads within the state. In the meantime in China, Pony simply bought the OK to carry out driverless testing on public roads in Beijing, one thing it’s been doing in Guangzhou, as properly, as of this 12 months.
Replace: The story was corrected to make clear that some members of Pony’s U.S. trucking crew are staying on the firm.