Delphi's $450m nuTonomy buy sees a self-driving empire grow

The race to be at the heart of tomorrow's autonomous vehicles continues, with automotive tech firm and component supplier Delphi snapping up driverless startup nuTonomy. The deal, announced today, will see Delphi spend $400m on the company and a further $50m on earn-outs, for a total of $450m. It will effectively double Delphi's autonomous driving team.

While Delphi may not be a household name in the auto industry, it's hard to escape contact with the company's products. As a Tier 1 supplier, it's responsible for many of the components found inside a wide range of vehicles, in addition to active safety technology. However in recent years much of its focus has been on the next generation of driverless vehicles.

Currently, Delphi has a team of over 100 people working on autonomous driving. The team there has been developing both hardware and software, including sensor suites that allow driverless vehicles to spot potential hazards and other road users in the environment around them, and the user experience for those in the cabin so that they're confident in the car's abilities.

Earlier this year, the company demonstrated its latest prototype vehicle, a converted Audi SUV. Inside, the engineers were able to adjust the aggressiveness of the driverless system, ramping up its eagerness at junctions and the urgency of its braking, to demonstrate how such vehicles could better integrate with human traffic. With a variety of almost unnoticeable external seniors, including radar and cameras, the prototype could easily have blended in with anything else in a parking lot, were it not for Delphi's wrap.

nuTonomy isn't working on hardware, but software. It was founded in 2013, and is building a proprietary full-stack autonomous driving system what would be licensed out to automakers wanting to give their vehicles driverless abilities. Of its more than 100 employees, 70 are engineers and scientists; they'll continue to be based in Boston. Last year, the company launched self-driving taxis in a project in Singapore

Delphi plans to combine its test fleets and have 60 autonomous research vehicles on the road by the end of the year. They'll be spread across three continents, and the company says it plans to expand that fleet in due course.

The $450m deal is expected to close before the end of the year, and marks another in a series of acquisitions and investments that Delphi has made in autonomous-related tech. Earlier in the year, it acquired Ottomatika, a startup working on autonomous driving software.