Lyft, the transportation on demand firm that’s heading to a $15 billion IPO in 2019, is racing forward with its autonomous automobile plans. TechSwitch has discovered that it’s buying the London-based augmented actuality startup Blue Imaginative and prescient Labs and unveiling its first take a look at automobile to advance its imaginative and prescient for self-driving vehicles.
The primary automotive from Lyft’s Degree 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 yr. 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 combination 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 Degree 5 autonomous automotive division headed up by Luc Vincent (who joined the corporate final yr as VP of engineering after creating and working Google Road View).
The startup and its employees of 39 (everyone seems to be becoming a member of Lyft) will even grow 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. Degree 5 is stepping up a gear in one other approach immediately, too: Lyft is unveiling a brand new automobile that it will likely be utilizing for testing.
Blue Imaginative and prescient has developed expertise that gives each avenue 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 grow to be canvasses for digital objects to be painted on. Over time, we might even see numerous makes use of of it all through the Lyft platform, however for now the primary focus is Degree 5.
“We’re wanting ahead to focusing Blue Imaginative and prescient’s expertise on constructing the very best maps at scale to help our autonomous automobiles, after which localization to help our stacks,” Vincent stated in an interview. “That is elementary to our enterprise. We want good maps and to grasp the place each passenger and automobile is. To make our providers extra environment friendly and take away friction, we would like their tech to drive enhancements.”
Folks aware of the acquisition inform us Blue Imaginative and prescient is being acquired for round $72 million with $30 million on prime of that based mostly 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. Buyers included GV, Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and extra.
This deal is notable partly as a result of that is the primary acquisition that Lyft has made to develop 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 attention-grabbing purposes or applied sciences round areas like AR, mapping, and autonomous driving, there could also be extra to come back. “We’re at all times evaluating construct versus purchase,” Vincent stated when requested about extra acquisitions. However he additionally acknowledged that it’s a very crowded subject immediately, even when contemplating simply essentially the most promising firms.
“I don’t have a crystal ball however arguably there are fairly a number of gamers immediately, together with massive tech, startups, OEMs and automotive makers. There are nicely over 100 [strong] firms within the house and there’s sure to be some consolidation.” Lyft earlier this yr additionally inked an funding and partnership with Magna to combine its self-driving automotive system into elements it provides to automotive makers.
But it surely additionally may face different pressures. The corporate counts Didi and GM amongst its traders, and each of those firms are making their very own massive strides in self-driving expertise and every has inked offers to have extra companions utilizing that tech, partly 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, somewhat 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 automobile in operation immediately, with a smartphone on the dashboard, could possibly be commandeered to grow 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 automobile (AV) platform be taught extra about driving total.
Within the race for knowledge to “educate” these AI techniques, having that broad community of cameras deployed and selecting up knowledge so rapidly is “sport altering,” stated Peter Ondruska, the co-founder and CEO of Blue Imaginative and prescient.
“The quantity of information you’ve got impacts how a lot you may depend on your system,” Ondruska stated 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 sport altering. I used to be engaged on this for eight years and you need to have plenty of knowledge to get to the suitable degree of security. That’s onerous and we are able to get there sooner utilizing our expertise.”
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 facet of the pond. It opened its first European workplace in Munich earlier this yr, an indication that it’s trying to this a part of the world not less than for R&D, if to not develop its enterprise footprint to customers, simply but. Vincent declined to touch upon whether or not Lyft would become involved in autonomous trials in London, nor whether or not it could develop its transportation service there.
One other key space that’s value noting is that Blue Imaginative and prescient’s “collaborative” VR, which lets folks take a look at the identical spot in house and each see and create interactive, digital figures in it, could possibly 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 yr as the corporate emerged from stealth, experience hailing purposes, actually, have been one of many use instances that we identified could possibly 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 shifting objects in an area to inside centimeters of their precise location — way more correct than typical GPS — which means that it might give higher ends in apps that require two events to search out one another, equivalent to in a ride-hailing app. (Arms up for those who and your Uber driver have ever misplaced one another earlier than you’ve even stepped foot within the automobile.)
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 expertise developer Niantic Labs are additionally constructing out these digital maps on which builders can create purposes. Certainly, Niantic’s Pokemon Go sport is essentially the most profitable augmented actuality software up to now.
Giant media firms have additionally been investing constructing content material for these platforms, and traders have poured a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands 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 are going to, apparently, all quickly be seeing the world.
The event of those new platforms will go a good distance towards making certain that extra helpful purposes are simply across the nook, ready for customers to choose them up.
“One of many explanation why AR hasn’t actually reached mass market adoption is due to the tech that’s available on the market,” Ondruska informed us earlier this yr. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We’re permitting the following step, letting folks see the suitable place, for instance. None of that was potential 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 instances, ones which are necessary and will likely be used each day.”
The deal marks Lyft’s tenth acquisition, in keeping with CrunchBase. In 2015, Lyft acquired the disappearing messaging firm, Leo, to carry 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 seem to be strategic acquisitions to bulk up mapping and advertising efforts internally; however Kamcord, a social media community for video sharing, appeared a bit of farther afield.
For extra on Lyft’s larger plans for AV, watch the video beneath of Vincent speaking concerning the firm’s roadmap (so to talk).