Lyft, the transportation on demand firm that’s heading to a $15 billion IPO in 2019, is racing forward with its autonomous car plans. TechSwitch has realized that it’s buying the London-based augmented actuality startup Blue Imaginative and prescient Labs and unveiling its first check car to advance its imaginative and prescient for self-driving vehicles.
The primary automotive from Lyft’s Stage 5 self-driving initiative would be the Ford Fusion Hybrid. Lyft’s use of a Ford Fusion apparently isn’t related to the partnership the 2 introduced final 12 months. Different AV firms have used the Ford Fusion as a platform for integrating self-driving applied sciences.
The Ford Fusion (now with Lyft autonomy!)
Whereas the mixing of Lyft’s autonomous applied sciences and a Ford automotive is spectacular, maybe extra significant is the corporate’s acquisition of Blue Imaginative and prescient Labs, a startup out of London that has developed a approach of ingesting street-level imagery and is utilizing it to construct collaborative, interactive augmented actuality layers — all by means of fundamental smartphone cameras.
Blue Imaginative and prescient will sit inside Lyft’s Stage 5 autonomous automotive division headed up by Luc Vincent (who joined the corporate final 12 months as VP of engineering after creating and operating Google Road View).
The startup and its employees of 39 (everyone seems to be becoming a member of Lyft) may also turn out to be the anchor for a brand new R&D operation in London or the San Francisco-based firm, centered on that autonomous driving effort. Stage 5 is stepping up a gear in one other approach in the present day, too: Lyft is unveiling a brand new car that it is going to be utilizing for testing.
Blue Imaginative and prescient has developed know-how that gives each road degree mapping and interactive augmented actuality that lets two folks see the identical digital objects. The corporate has already constructed extremely detailed maps that builders can now use to develop collaborative AR experiences — it’s just like the maps of those areas turn out to be canvasses for digital objects to be painted on. Over time, we might even see varied makes use of of it all through the Lyft platform, however for now the primary focus is Stage 5.
“We’re wanting ahead to focusing Blue Imaginative and prescient’s know-how on constructing the most effective maps at scale to assist our autonomous automobiles, after which localization to assist our stacks,” Vincent mentioned in an interview. “That is elementary to our enterprise. We want good maps and to grasp the place each passenger and car is. To make our providers extra environment friendly and take away friction, we would like their tech to drive enhancements.”
Individuals accustomed to the acquisition inform us Blue Imaginative and prescient is being acquired for round $72 million with $30 million on prime of that primarily based on hitting sure milestones. Lyft has declined to touch upon the valuation. Blue Imaginative and prescient had raised $17 million and had solely come out of stealth final March, after working quietly on the product for 2 years. Traders included GV, Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and extra.
This deal is notable partially as a result of that is the primary acquisition that Lyft has made to broaden its autonomous automotive operation, which now has 300 folks engaged on it. At a time when many bigger firms are snapping up startups which have developed fascinating functions or applied sciences round areas like AR, mapping, and autonomous driving, there could also be extra to return. “We’re all the time evaluating construct versus purchase,” Vincent mentioned when requested about extra acquisitions. However he additionally acknowledged that it’s a very crowded subject in the present day, even when contemplating simply essentially the most promising firms.
“I don’t have a crystal ball however arguably there are fairly just a few gamers in the present day, together with huge tech, startups, OEMs and automotive makers. There are nicely over 100 [strong] firms within the house and there may be certain to be some consolidation.” Lyft earlier this 12 months additionally inked an funding and partnership with Magna to combine its self-driving automotive system into elements it provides to automotive makers.
Nevertheless it additionally would possibly face different pressures. The corporate counts Didi and GM amongst its buyers, and each of those firms are making their very own huge strides in self-driving know-how and every has inked offers to have extra companions utilizing that tech, partially to justify a few of their very own hefty funding.
Lyft, after all, will hope that acquisitions like Blue Imaginative and prescient will give it extra leverage, and make it one of many consolidators, reasonably than the consolidated.
Blue Imaginative and prescient’s use of smartphones to ingest knowledge to create its street-level imagery and mapping is essential to Lyft’s quest for scale. In impact, each Lyft car in operation in the present day, with a smartphone on the dashboard, might be commandeered to turn out to be a “digital camera” watching, surveying and mapping the roads that these vehicles drive on, and the way people behave on them, utilizing that to assist Lyft’s autonomous car (AV) platform study extra about driving general.
Within the race for knowledge to “train” these AI methods, having that huge community of cameras deployed and choosing up knowledge so shortly is “recreation altering,” mentioned Peter Ondruska, the co-founder and CEO of Blue Imaginative and prescient.
“The quantity of knowledge you’ve impacts how a lot you may depend on your system,” Ondruska mentioned in an interview. “What our tech permits us to do is to make the most of Lyft’s fleet to coach the vehicles. That’s actually recreation altering. I used to be engaged on this for eight years and you need to have a variety of knowledge to get to the best degree of security. That’s arduous and we will get there sooner utilizing our know-how.”
Lyft so far has actually concentrated its enterprise presence in North America, and so this marks not less than one sort of approach that it’s increasing on the opposite aspect of the pond. It opened its first European workplace in Munich earlier this 12 months, an indication that it’s seeking to this a part of the world not less than for R&D, if to not broaden its enterprise footprint to customers, simply but. Vincent declined to touch upon whether or not Lyft would get entangled in autonomous trials in London, nor whether or not it will broaden its transportation service there.
One other key space that’s value noting is that Blue Imaginative and prescient’s “collaborative” VR, which lets folks have a look at the identical spot in house and each see and create interactive, digital figures in it, might be utilized by Lyft both to assist drivers and would-be passengers higher talk, and even assist passengers uncover extra providers throughout a journey or at their vacation spot.
When Ondruska first spoke to TechSwitch earlier this 12 months as the corporate emerged from stealth, trip hailing functions, in reality, have been one of many use circumstances that we identified might be helped by its tech.
Peter Ondruska, the startup’s co-founder and CEO, [said] that Blue Imaginative and prescient’s tech can pinpoint folks and different transferring objects in an area to inside centimeters of their precise location — much more correct than typical GPS — that means that it might give higher ends in apps that require two events to seek out one another, akin to in a ride-hailing app. (Fingers up for those who and your Uber driver have ever misplaced one another earlier than you’ve even stepped foot within the car.)
Blue Imaginative and prescient isn’t the one firm working to develop these digital maps for the world. Startups like 6d.ai, Blippar and the extremely nicely capitalized and wildly profitable AR know-how developer Niantic Labs are additionally constructing out these digital maps on which builders can create functions. Certainly, Niantic’s Pokemon Go recreation is essentially the most profitable augmented actuality software to this point.
Giant media firms have additionally been investing constructing content material for these platforms, and buyers have poured a whole lot of tens of millions of into startups like 6d, Niantic, Blue Imaginative and prescient, and others which are constructing each software program and to usher on this new age of how we’ll, apparently, all quickly be seeing the world.
The event of those new platforms will go a good distance towards making certain that extra helpful functions are simply across the nook, ready for customers to select them up.
“One of many explanation why AR hasn’t actually reached mass market adoption is due to the tech that’s in the marketplace,” Ondruska advised us earlier this 12 months. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We’re permitting the subsequent step, letting folks see the best place, for instance. None of that was attainable earlier than in AR as a result of the backend didn’t exist. However by filling on this piece, we’re creating new AR use circumstances, ones which are essential and will likely be used each day.”
The deal marks Lyft’s tenth acquisition, in line with CrunchBase. In 2015, Lyft acquired the disappearing messaging firm, Leo, to deliver the corporate’s messaging experience in home. Two years later, the ride-hailing firm went on an acquisition tear, hoovering up FinitePaths, YesGraph, DataScore, and Kamcord. The primary three look like strategic acquisitions to bulk up mapping and advertising efforts internally; however Kamcord, a social media community for video sharing, appeared a bit farther afield.
For extra on Lyft’s greater plans for AV, watch the video under of Vincent speaking concerning the firm’s roadmap (so to talk).