Smooth-Driving Startup ClearMotion Gets $115M

Auto technology startup says its active suspension system promising buttery-smooth rides on bumpy terrain is ready for prime time.

The Boston-area business says it raised a $115 million Series D funding round led by Franklin Templeton Investments and it is working with a handful of automotive manufacturers to commercialize the product.

ClearMotion developed a car suspension system it likens to noise-cancelling for potholes and the like that was based on research audio technology company Bose pushed decades ago. ClearMotion bought the Bose patents two years ago and claims to have found the path to the mass automotive market.

“We are able to erase a lot of the road,” ClearMotion founder and chief executive Shakeel Avadhany says.

The system senses contours in the roadway—bumps, potholes, uneven surfaces—and adjusts the car’s suspension within milliseconds using a software-controlled “electro-hydraulic device” so the car doesn’t sway and jerk with rough patches of pavement.

Some auto companies are eyeing ClearMotion’s suspension for human-driven vehicles, including cars designed for ride hailing, where the rear-passenger experience is most of what matters, Avadhany says. Others, though, want the technology to address what could otherwise be a big problem with self-driving cars: motion sickness. Once riders start to focus on other things as they are driven around, the road feel could trigger the queasiness.

In the long term, everybody is looking for the living room on wheels,” Avadhany says, noting that ClearMotion’s “wagon is not hitched” to the self-driving market right now. He predicts self-driving vehicles, not limited by a fenced-in area like Waymo’s cars in Arizona, are still five to 10 years away.

Avadhany says the company will plow a good chunk of the $115 million raised back into expanding its data science and machine learning teams working on systems to predict road surface and mapping software. The company’s road mapping system will develop high resolution maps of roads that will be stored on the cloud and fed into the suspensions to respond to changes in the roadways.

ClearMotion was founded in 2009 out of MIT and originally called Levant Power. It initially aimed to develop a way to harvest power from suspensions systems in heavy duty military and trucks as they hit bumps in the road. Avadhany says the rise of autonomous vehicles led him to shift it toward vehicle ride quality.

In late 2017, ClearMotion bought active suspension technology that Bose developed in the 1980s. Bose had the tech working, but it couldn’t make the system financially viable and shelved what then was known as “Project Sound.”

ClearMotion now has about 200 employees with offices in Billerica, MA, Wilmington, MA, and Birmingham, U.K. In 2017, it raised a $100 million Series C funding round.

Other investors in the funding announced today include clients advised by J.P. Morgan Asset Management, Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), Bridgestone, Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM), World Innovation Lab, NewView Capital, and Eileses Capital, according to ClearMotion.

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