Lyft Sells Autonomous Unit to Toyota\u2019s Woven Planet

Lyft Sells Autonomous Unit to Toyota\u2019s Woven Planet

04/28/2021

Just months after Uber parted with its ATG self-driving business unit, Lyft is doing the same, selling its autonomous vehicle research division named Level 5 to Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet. The deal was announced this week with the business unit changing hands for $550 million. Lyft will receive $200 million of that amount up front, while the remaining $350 million will be paid to the company over five years.

The move is seen both as a way for Lyft to cut expenses, amounting to some $100 million a year, and a tacit acknowledgement that robotaxis may not arrive on any scale in a time span close enough to warrant the kind of annual cash expenditure by the ride-hailing company.

Toyota’s Woven Planet division launched in January of this year, growing out of the work of Toyota Research Institute on connected mobility, and is intended to act as an innovation, research, and investment hub focusing on smart cities, robotics, automated driving, and other areas.

“This acquisition advances our mission to develop the safest mobility in the world at scale,” said James Kuffner, Woven Planet CEO. “The Woven Planet team, alongside the team of researchers at TRI, have already established a center of excellence for software development and technology in the Toyota Group. Bringing Level 5’s world-class engineers and experts into the fold—as well as additional technology resources—will allow us to have even greater speed and impact. This deal will be key in weaving together the people, resources, and infrastructure that will help us to transform the world we live in through mobility technologies that can bring about a happier, safer future for us all.”

Incidentally, Lyft’s sale of its self-driving unit is taking place during the year that Lyft president John Zimmer predicted would see the arrival of self-driving vehicles, with Zimmer making that prediction in 2016.

Needless to say, it was an era of great confidence in the development of autonomous vehicles. Level 2 automation had been achieved, and many autonomous developers believed that Levels 3 through 5 would take a similar amounts of time to perfect. It wasn’t until late 2018 when a number of players in the autonomous development field appeared to acknowledge that Level 5 autonomy was not just around the corner, as had been predicted, and that the rollout of geo-fenced Level 4 robotaxis would take quite a bit of time to achieve even on a small scale—and longer yet to achieve profitably.

Still, a number of developers aren’t giving up on a robotaxi future, and Level 4 testing is ongoing on a small scale in a number of locations in the US and overseas, just as Level 3 cars appear on the market.

“With the acquisition of Level 5, Woven Planet is driving towards its mission to combine the innovative culture of Silicon Valley with world-renowned Japanese craftsmanship to create the mobility solutions of the future,” added George Kellerman, head of Investments of Acquisitions at Woven Planet. “This acquisition significantly accelerates our ability to bring technology solutions forward with an influx of exceptional engineers and leading-edge technology.”

The sale of Lyft’s unit to Woven Planet follows a pattern of other moves in the field of autonomous developers, with autonomous research units finding new parent companies that can keep their operations going for years, and aren’t focused on a quick return on investment.

Will we see a meaningful roll-out of Level 5 robotaxis in this decade, or is that further in the future? Let us know in the comments below.

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