Founder Story — Waabi

Raquel Urtasun

Traditional approaches to developing self-driving technology are incredibly labor- and capital-intensive and rely on exposing the vehicle to millions of real-world miles. These approaches also use hand-engineered systems that result in complex, brittle, inflexible, and unwieldy software stacks that cannot handle all situations that might happen on the road.

Waabi is taking a new approach, tapping into the power of generative AI to unlock autonomous trucking at scale. We replace the majority of real-world testing with our next generation AI-powered simulation and have developed a foundation AI model for the self-driving brain – a single AI system that can solve all the tasks necessary for driving. Today, our AI-powered autonomous trucks are driving on public roads, doing commercial runs for some of the largest companies.

Trucking is the backbone of our economy, but the industry has faced massive challenges over the past few years, stressing global supply chains beyond their limits. An acute trucker labor shortage and ongoing safety concerns are placing the future of the industry in jeopardy. Autonomous trucking offers a solution to many of the industry’s woes, and we are first applying our technology to self-driving trucks. But we plan to do much more. Thanks to the flexibility and superior generalization capabilities of our technology, we can adapt our technology to different use cases in a fraction of the time compared to traditional approaches.

Waabi uses generative AI to radically change how autonomous systems are developed, function, and deployed. We replace the majority of real-world testing with our next generation AI-powered simulation, Waabi World, which is the most scalable, highest fidelity closed-loop simulator ever, and the key to unlocking self-driving. Powered by generative AI, it is an immersive and reactive environment that teaches the software to learn to drive on its own, reducing the need for on-road testing.

We’ve also developed a foundation AI model for the Waabi Driver (the virtual driver that represents the self-driving “brain”) that is a single AI system that can solve all the tasks necessary for driving. The result is two distinct AI systems interact similar to the way a teacher interacts with a student who is learning how to drive. This creates a solution that is more efficient, scalable, and safer.

Radical Q&A

What do you find most exciting about AI right now?

We are just at the beginning of the generative AI revolution. I think the next giant leap is evolving generative AI capabilities from existing solely “in computers”, like today’s large language models, to transforming the physical world and bringing meaningful change to transportation, home care, and much more. At Waabi, we’ve been building this technology since day one, and I’m excited for what’s to come.

How do you see the world in 50 years?

A future where we all benefit from self-driving technology is closer than many may think. We don’t need to wait 50 years!  I think we’ll live in a world with drastically fewer barriers to transportation and to mobility. I also expect robots to perform physical tasks that are very difficult for humans – and they’ll be a common tool that we’ll all use in our daily lives.

AI will have a tremendous impact on healthcare as well: not necessarily to make our lives longer, but to make them much better and enable us to have high-quality livelihoods for many years. Truly, there are endless possibilities of what bringing generative AI into the physical world can unlock. We’re excited to be at the forefront of what generative AI has in store.

What’s the secret to building an AI product?

Through my 25-year career in AI, I’ve learned that listening to different perspectives that challenge our assumptions can help us build much better solutions. I’ve seen the self-driving industry stalled by homogeneity, with many of the same ideas and approaches dominating development for years. Diversity of thought is essential to developing a much-needed breakthrough.

That’s why when I founded Waabi, I wanted to build a company that was rooted in innovation and that valued open-mindedness and collaboration. The Waabi team celebrates our differences whilst pushing each other to be better. We are humble but relentless. We pursue excellence, and make what everyone thought impossible a reality. Those are our superpowers!

What was your first job?

My first job was a Professor of Computer Science. I’ve always been passionate about innovation, solving difficult problems that nobody could answer, and fostering next-generation talent.

Which living person do you most admire?

Jacinda Ardern former prime minister of New Zealand – for being a trailblazer being the first female prime minister of New Zealand, entering office at age 37. For leading the pack and taking a maternity leave to take care of her daughter while in office. And for her amazing response during the COVID 19 pandemic.

If you could go back in time, what’s one piece of advice that you would give your younger self?

I would tell myself to never give up and stay strong. Being a woman in science, you will encounter instances of discrimination. But don’t let people tell you what you can or can’t do. Believe in yourself and continue your pursuit of excellence. The world is in front of you for you to change.