Toyota Motor Corp. has bought the self-driving division of ride-hailing company Lyft for $550 million in a move that reflects the ambitions of Toyota to expand into mobility technology.
The autonomous driven or robot taxis were supposed to be a reality by 2025, but things have not panned out well for companies that invested in building them. Just recently, Uber sold off its self-driving unit to Aurora for $400 million.
The Lyft unit was bought out by Woven Planet Holdings, a Toyota subsidiary that focuses on innovations and investment in projects such as “smart cities,” robotics and automated driving.
The Woven Planet project is “on a mission to design a happier planet . . . [by] transforming how people live, move and play through new innovations and investment in automated driving, robotics, smart cities and more”. It will bring together engineers and researchers in mobility services, software and sensor assets, and automated driving systems to further develop the technology, according to a statement by Toyota. “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,” said Woven Planet Chief Executive James Kuffner.
Woven Planet and Lyft also signed commercial agreements to use the Lyft system and fleet data to speed up commercialization of the technology. Woven Planet will be working out of Tokyo, Palo Alto, California, and London.
Toyota also holds a minority stake in Aurora and said it would collaborate with Aurora on the rollout of driverless cars. James Kuffner, chief executive of Woven Planet, did not elaborate on any business conflict between the two units of Aurora and Woven Planet.
There was no mention of when the operation will become mainstream. Kuffner emphasized that the acquisition “assembles a dream team” of engineers and scientists”.
Woven Planet plans to build Woven City for which the groundbreaking ceremony was held last month. They will power the city with hydrogen fuel cells, robotics, and artificial intelligence technology. Akio Toyoda, president of Toyota Motor Corp. called it “a unique opportunity to develop future technologies, including a digital operating system for the city’s infrastructure.”
Toyota also invested over $392 million in Joby Aviation, a US-based enterprise working on commercializing flying for a faster and affordable commute in traffic gridlocked urban centers.
All the world’s top automakers are working on technology to make vehicles smarter and more connected.
Toyota has also announced it will work with Japanese automakers Suzuki Motor Corp., Daihatsu Motor Co. and Mazda Motor Corp. on next-generation vehicle communications devices.
“Who will be the economic winners in all of this? Auto companies around the world are girding themselves for the disruption ahead,” Daniel Yergin, IHS Markit vice chairman, wrote in a recent commentary.
“Toyota is rebranding itself as a ‘mobility company.’ Volkswagen goes farther, now billing itself as a ‘software-driven mobility provider.’ But the big beneficiaries could well be companies that don’t yet exist.”
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