On the 11th floor of a building in Tokyo's Shibuya neighborhood, engineers watch a virtual car cruise through a virtual city. When the simulation begins, the car can barely drive in a straight line.
As it veers to the left and hits a building, the simulation resets. But within minutes, its artificial intelligence system has learned to negotiate several corners without crashing.
Japanese start-up Ascent Robotics wants to create software for self-driving cars and sell it to vehicle-makers and equipment manufacturers. The company, which was founded in 2016, says it raised $18 million in funding this year and aims to complete a fully functional AI vehicle system by late 2020 — when it hopes to hold an initial public offering.
The company is catching the attention of Japan's tech community because it counts Ken Kutaragi, the creator of Sony's PlayStation game console, as one of its board members.