Toyota strengthens autonomous vehicle play with Carmera acquisition

The Robot Report
Toyota acquires Carmera

Carmera and Toyota collaborated on a mapping project in Detroit in 2019. | Credit: Carmera

Less than three months after acquiring Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit for $550 million, Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet Holdings made another acquisition to strengthen its position in the market. Woven Planet is acquiring HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed amount.

Carmera and Toyota are already quite familiar with each other. The companies collaborated on multiple projects from 2018-2020 in Detroit, Michigan, and Japan. The partnership first started in Japan, where Carmera helped Toyota develop camera-based automation of HD maps for urban and surface roads.

Carmera launched in 2015. It specializes in road mapping updates made cheaper and faster by using crowdsourced information obtained in real time from millions of connected Toyota vehicles. Some of Carmera’s earliest customers included Baidu, which used the technology for its open-source Apollo mapping project, and autonomous vehicle startup Voyage, which was acquired by Cruise earlier in 2021. In 2020, Carmera launched its Change-as-a-Service platform that detects changes and can be integrated into other third-party maps.

Carmera and Toyota join forces

When the acquisition closes, the Carmera team will report into Woven’s Automated Mapping Platform (AMP) division. AMP is a connected crowdsourced software platform that supports the creation, development and distribution of HD maps as an enabler for autonomous vehicles. Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, will report to Mandali Khalesi, VP, automated driving strategy and mapping at Woven Planet Holdings.

Woven said the acquisition of Carmera will accelerate AMP’s shift from the R&D stage to the next phase of commercialization.

“With Carmera joining the team, we’ll be able to hit the accelerator,” said Khalesi. “Carmera’s software stack, which is focused on real-time HD map changes and proprietary hardware custom-tailored to crowdsourcing, is an ideal complement to AMP’s mapping efforts. In addition, their world-class experts will allow us to bring forward the execution of key strategic milestones and jumpstart operations in the United States.”

Carmera, which will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Woven Planet, will maintain its offices in New York and Seattle. Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner said eventually Carmera’ 50-person team will be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise.

Kuffner said Woven Planet will look to develop and sell an open map platform to original equipment manufacturers and automakers who want accurate and fresh data.

“For me, there’s immediate near-term applications that we’ve already worked on as proofs-of-concept with Carmera, and that we haven’t yet announced, but are in the area of safety and automated driving,” Kuffner told TechCrunch, noting that Toyota’s new Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai models will offer an advanced driving assistance technology called Teammate that uses HP maps. “I’m really excited about that generation of products, but for fleets, absolutely. HD maps. There are a lot of applications in fleets.”

Carmera is the second HD mapping startup to be acquired in as many months. NVIDIA acquired DeepMap in June for an undisclosed amount.

“This validates and furthers our founding thesis that richer, faster spatial intelligence is both critical to the next generation of ‘Mobility for All’ and viable at global- production scale,” said Gupta.

Toyota expands autonomous vehicle play

The Carmera acquisition is the latest in a string of investments Toyota has made in the autonomous vehicle space. Most notably, it acquired Lyft’s self-driving unit, Level 5, in April for $550 million in cash. Lyft launched Level 5 in 2017 and said that by 2021 “a majority” of its rides would take place in autonomous vehicles. Of course, that never came to fruition.

Toyota also recently invested $400 million in, a self-driving startup based in the U.S. and China. But much of Toyota’s autonomous vehicle work has been kept quiet. Toyota Research Institute has been conducting tests at its Ottawa Lake, Michigan, closed-course facility for a number of years. It also invested $500 million into Uber’s self-driving unit, but transferred the stake when Uber sold the unit to Aurora. Aurora is developing a fleet of autonomous Toyota Sienna minivans that could be deployed by the end of 2021. The vehicles will then “some time after that” be deployed in ride-hailing fleets for Uber and other companies.

Toyota also owns a stake in China’s top ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing and Southeast Asia’s Grab.

Acquirer Acquired Date Amount (M$) Coverage
Woven Planet Holdings Lyft Level 5 04/26/21 $550 Story
Cruise Voyage 03/15/21 Story
Aurora Uber ATG 12/7/2020 Story
Amazon Zoox 06/26/2020 1200 Story
Waymo Latent Logic 12/12/19 Story
Ford, Volkswagen Argo AI 07/12/19 3600 Story
Apple 06/26/19 Story
Daimler Torc Robotics 03/19/19 Story
Delphi Automotive nuTonomy 10/24/17 450 Story
Intel Mobileye 03/13/17 15300 Story
GM Cruise 03/11/16 1000 Story
GM Lyft 01/05/16 500 Story

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