TRL Helm UK Report 2022 Torc Robotics, an independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG announced today that it has signed an agreement to acquire Montreal-based Algolux Inc. Torc said they are acquiring Algolux “for its award-winning intellectual property and expertise in the areas of computer vision and machine learning.”
Virginia-based Torc has been in the autonomy game since its founding in 2005, initially working on military applications. “TORC” originally stood for Tele-Operated Robotic Controls, and the team focused from the beginning on developing automated vehicles of various shapes and sizes. They had a great showing in the DARPA Urban Challenge, coming in third place as part of the Virginia Tech “Victor Tango” team. By 2017, Torc was an active player in civilian automated driving. Four years ago, Torc became an independent subsidiary of Daimler Truck AG. In the automated driving space, Torc is focused on commercializing automated trucks for long-haul applications in the U.S.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Algolux to the Torc Robotics family,” said Peter Vaughan Schmidt, Torc Robotics CEO. “Algolux’s technology, at the intersection of deep learning, computer vision, and computational imaging, will help Torc strengthen key capabilities toward our commercialization of Level 4 autonomous trucking.”
Algolux was founded in 2013 and originally focused on a different industry sector. A 2014 Gizmodo article noted Algolux provided “clever computation to make up for how small and crappy your smartphone camera lens is.” Then the company pivoted to surfing the autonomy wave across a wide range of customers in the domains of passenger cars, robot shuttles, and trucking.
“Torc Robotics shares in our commitment
to creating robust technology to realize the potential of autonomy and help save lives, which is one of the many reasons why joining forces makes sense for our teams, ” said Allan Benchetrit, Algolux president and CEO. “Algolux’s established team with deep expertise in Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning talent and perception complements Torc’s already experienced engineering team.”
“This acquisition brings together Algolux’s end-to-end AI stack, from photons to behavior, with Torc Robotics pioneering autonomous technology. Add in a tightly integrated OEM truck platform and you have a dream scenario,” added Felix Heide, Algolux CTO.
The press release notes that Torc has been working closely with Algolux for over a year on multiple perception concepts and methods for robustly improving object detection and distance estimation. Clearly, they liked the results. Torc notes that robust perception technology is key to helping their automated driver correctly identify objects in difficult visual conditions such as low light, fog, or inclement weather. Algolux software is currently operating on Torc’s Freightliner Cascadia test vehicles and is being included in Torc’s software development efforts.
This acquisition is a significant expansion for Torc. Algolux will bring about 100 engineers and AI specialists into the Torc fold.
AI has become an essential element in automated driving. It appears that Torc Robotics saw the need for greater expertise in AI-based perception and wanted it now – rather than growing it from within, which takes time. My sense is that back in 2019, Daimler was similarly motivated in partnering with Torc Robotics.
According to Crunchbase, Algolux raised $32.8M since its founding. I have no doubt that, in the current economic climate, the purchase price of Algolux in this deal was much less than it might have been a couple of years ago. The resulting acquisition may not have fulfilled the original dreams of Algolux investors but could have provided a more attractive exit than a shutdown if Algolux was running low on cash and seeking additional capital. However, to be clear, I don’t know the specifics of Algolux’s funding situation.
My “AV Reality Check” Forbes article series in late 2022 noted that current conditions favor those with deep pockets who can play the long game. Torc is one of few developers of self-driving trucks which has the financial backing of a major vehicle manufacturer. It will take time to apply and integrate this new AI capability into the product development process. A myriad of other technical and business factors must come together for Torc Robotics to launch its first product. The company hasn’t said when that will happen, but I have a feeling we’ll see them among the early leaders.