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Trucking is the backbone of our economy. It impacts everything. And we cannot realize the full power of our economy because we have a very disrupted supply chain that’s really not functioning. Through the pandemic, we saw how these issues could affect every single business, every single person. And what is the alternative? There are not enough human drivers in Canada; there are 26,000 truck drivers missing, and it’s getting worse and worse. So, it’s either automation or nothing. There’s also a huge impact in terms of greener cities and providing transportation for people who don’t have the means to go from point A to point B.

I started Waabi two years ago because I believe there is a need for innovation to bring self-driving from where it is today to where it needs to be. And that has to come from an AI-first approach.

There are two problems with the previous generation of self-driving technology. The first is that the brain is very brittle; it cannot generalize to all the situations that happen on the road. And it’s very hard to maintain and develop, and requires many, many people working in that overly complicated stack. The second is the way companies do testing: They require large fleets of self-driving vehicles to understand what issues they need to solve. It’s very manual. It’s like, let’s drive and drive and drive millions of miles, and then see what our problems are.

Our approach is to look at these problems from a perspective of how AI can do this automatically. In terms of autonomy, the brain of this self-driving vehicle can be learned from data in a single process. For the testing piece, driving in the real world doesn’t scale, it’s not the safest solution, and it’s very rare to see certain things on the road—that’s why you need to drive a lot. In simulation, you control those situations so you can understand much faster how the system behaves.

It’s different from anything I’ve seen, because self-driving is often a cutthroat environment

Raquel Urtasun

Our first milestone was closing one of the largest Series A financings in Canadian history two months in. Then we focused on developing the technology, and we were quiet in terms of announcements, which created some mystery around what Waabi is doing. When we launched our simulator, everybody thought we were a simulation company. And then we launched Waabi Driver—our autonomous trucks—and some of our competitors were very surprised. Then Volvo came along, and it was like, “Oh, my God, they really mean business.”

Innovation is at Waabi’s core. Also, I don’t know how much of this is related to me being a female founder, but it’s very important that I work with best-in-class talent where everyone is also humble. It’s very collaborative. It feels like a family. And it’s different from anything I’ve seen in the industry, as self-driving is often a cutthroat environment.

Waabi is very quickly becoming potentially the player on self-driving, in trucking in particular. And all this is being done in Canada. It was time for Canada to have a seat at the front of this. We did a lot of great things with the Vector Institute a few years ago, and now we have a really exciting ecosystem in terms of cutting-edge research and companies created here that really will transform the world.

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