Japanese car maker Toyota acquires the autonomous vehicle division of ride-hailing firm Lyft, after four years of development
There has been another notable event in the field of autonomous driving, after ride hailing firm Lyft confirmed it is halting the costly development of self-driving tech.
Lyft on Monday announced that it has signed an agreement with Woven Planet Holdings, which is a a subsidiary of Toyota, for the acquisition of Lyft’s self-driving vehicle division, Level 5.
The sell-off of Lyft’s self-driving car unit comes after rival Uber in December 2020, confirmed it was selling its self-driving unit to Aurora, a startup founded by the former head of Google’s self-driving project.
But now Woven Planet Holdings will acquire Lyft’s self-driving division, Level 5, for $550 million in cash. Toyota will pay Lyft $200 million up front, with the remainder ($350m) will be paid out to Lyft over five years.
“Today’s announcement launches Lyft into the next phase of an incredible journey to bring our mission to life,” Lyft Co-Founder and CEO Logan Green said. “Lyft has spent nine years building a transportation network that is uniquely capable of scaling AVs. This partnership between Woven Planet and Lyft represents a major step forward for autonomous vehicle technology.”
“This acquisition assembles a dream team of world-class engineers and scientists to deliver safe mobility technology for the world,” James Kuffner, CEO of Woven Planet said. “The Woven Planet team, alongside the team of researchers at Toyota Research Institute, have already established a center of excellence for software development, automated driving, and advanced safety technology within the Toyota Group. I am absolutely thrilled to welcome Level 5’s world-class engineers and experts into our company, which will greatly strengthen our efforts.”
The Level 5 team will join Woven Planet, a subsidiary of Toyota dedicated to developing autonomous driving and other advanced mobility technologies.
The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter of 2021, subject to the usual regulatory approvals and other closing conditions.
Lyft’s self-driving unit was founded back in 2017, but it did not quite make the headlines like that of its rival division at Uber, where one of its cars was involved a fatal crash.
That fatal accident took place in March 2018, when Elaine Herzberg, 49, died from her injuries after she crossed the Arizona road late at night, right in front of the Uber self-driving car, a 2017 Volvo XC90.
Just before the crash, Herzberg had been walking with a bicycle across a poorly lit stretch of a multi-lane road at night.
The fatality in Tempe, Arizona, was thought to be the first death caused by an autonomous vehicle on public roads.
Tempe police said the Volvo XC90 SUV was in autonomous mode at the time of the crash, with a single human safety driver.
The US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in November 2019 ruled the Uber self-driving car that killed Herzberg was not programmed to handle jaywalkers and had safety flaws.
The NTSB investigators found that Uber had disabled a Volvo auto-braking system that could have reduced the speed of the car, and that the in car systems systems had actually spotted Herzberg (in the darkness) approximately 5.6 seconds before the collision.
Unfortunately, it classified her as a number of different objects, and failed to realise an impact was imminent.
Despite that, in March 2019 local prosecutors ruled that Uber was not criminally liable for the death of Herzberg.
But the car’s back-up safety driver Rafaela Vasquez was always at risk of facing criminal charges, as video from the cabin showed Vasquez taking her eyes off the road moments before the accident.
Indeed, Vasquez is alleged to have been watching a streamed episode of the television show “The Voice” on a phone seconds before the crash.
Vasquez only looked up a half-second before hitting Herzberg, and police called the incident “entirely avoidable”.
In September last year Vasquez, age 46, pleaded not guilty after being charged in the death of Elaine Herzberg.