The transportation on demand firm Lyft has been speeding ahead with its self-driving car plans. As first reported by TechCrunch, the company is purchasing Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality company.
Also, Lyft is releasing its first-ever test car in an attempt to boost its vision for autonomous driving vehicles.
Even though the incorporation of Lyft’s self-driving technologies to a Ford car is a remarkable undertaking, what appears to be a more meaningful endeavor is the acquisition of Blue Vision Labs.
The London-based startup has come up with a technique of taking in street-level images and, in turn, utilizing it to create layers collaborative interactive augmented reality (AR), simply through standard smartphone cameras.
Blue Vision is expected to be based within the Level 5 self-driving vehicle division at Lyft, which is spearheaded by Luc Vincent. Vincent became part of the company last year as the vice president of engineering after building and managing Google Street View.
Blue Vision Labs and its staff made up of 39 individuals are all expected to join Lfyt. The company will also be made an anchor, primarily for a new reach and development task in London. Lyft’s Level 5 division has gone a notch higher when it comes to speeding up its efforts.
Blue Vision has created technology that offers both street-level interactive augmented reality and mapping that allows two individuals to view similar virtual objects. The startup has already developed highly comprehensive maps that can be used by developers to create collaborative AR experiences. Over a period, we may witness several uses of it all through the Lyft platform. However, the key focus currently rests on Level 5.
“We are looking forward to focusing Blue Vision’s technology on building the best maps at scale to support our autonomous vehicles, and then localization to support our stacks. This is fundamental to our business. We need good maps and to understand where every passenger and vehicle is. To make our services more efficient and remove friction, we want their tech to drive improvements,” said Vincent in an interview.
Those familiar with the deal told us that Blue Vision is being purchased for about $72 million. Furthermore, an additional $30 million will be included on the basis of hitting specific milestones. Lyft declined to make any comments regarding the valuation.
What’s more, Blue Vision had fundraised $17 million and only came out of stealth last year in March, after working silently on the particular product for about two years. Some of the investors involved in the deal included SV Angel, Horizons Ventures, Accel, GV among others.
“I don’t have a crystal ball but arguably there are quite a few players today, including big tech, startups, OEMs and car makers. There are well over 100 [strong] companies in the space and there is bound to be some consolidation.”
Earlier this year, Lyft detailed down a partnership and investment with Magna for integrating its autonomous driving vehicle system into various components that it delivers to car manufacturers.
Lyft counts GM and Didi among all it’s investors and both entities are making huge strides in autonomous driving technology. Each of these companies has made deals to additional partners utilizing that technology, as a way of justifying some of their massive investments.
Lyft expects that acquisitions such as Blue Vision would give it an advantage over other companies as well as make it be among the consolidators as opposed to the consolidated.
Blue Vision utilizes smartphones to take in data in a bid to develop street-based mapping and imagery, which is vital for facilitating Lyft’s pursuit for scale.
As a result, each Lyft car in operation today, fitted with a smartphone on the dashboard, can be used for camera watching, examining and mapping the roads where those cars drive on as well as how human beings behave on such roads. In turn, the company uses that to aid Lyft ’s self-driving car platform in learning more about driving.
“The amount of data you have affects how much you can rely on your system,” Ondruska said in an interview. “What our tech allows us to do is to utilize Lyft’s fleet to train the cars. That is really game-changing. I was working on this for eight years and you have to have a lot of data to get to the right level of safety. That is hard and we can get there faster using our technology.”
Up to now, Lyft has focused on its business presence, particularly in North America. As such, the recent deal marks one way that the company is expanding its operations outside the US.
Earlier this year, the company opened the first office based in Munich. This effort shows that Lyft is focusing on Europe for R&D. Vincent refused to talk about Lyft ’s possibility of getting involved in self-driving trails in London.
Blue Vision is not the only firm trying to create such virtual world maps. Other startups such as Blippar, 6d.ai, and Niantic Labs are also in the process of creating these virtual maps on which various developers can build applications.
Big media entities have also been investing in creating content for such platforms. On the other hand, investors have put in a lot of millions into startups such as Blue Vision, 6d, Niantic, and others that are creating both hardware and software to bring in the new age of how we will view the world.
“One of the reasons why AR hasn’t really reached mass market adoption is because of the tech that is on the market,” Ondruska told us earlier this year. “Single-user experiences are limiting. We are allowing the next step, letting people see the right place, for example. None of that was possible before in AR because the backend didn’t exist. But by filling in this piece, we are creating new AR use cases, ones that are important and will be used on a daily basis.”
According to Crunchbase, this recent deal represents Lyft’s 10th acquisition. Back in 2015, Lyft acquired Leo, a disappearing messaging firm, in a bid to deliver the firm’s messaging expertise in-house.