Woven Planet Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., said yesterday that it has agreed to acquire Level 5, the self-driving division of ride-hailing company Lyft Inc. This marks the first major deal for the newly established Woven Planet and continuing consolidation in the autonomous vehicle space.
Woven Planet Group launched in January 2021 as an expansion of the operations of Toyota Research Institute - Advanced Development Inc. (TRI-AD) with the motto of “Mobility to Love, Safety to Live.” It includes four companies in support of connected and autonomous vehicles, robotics, smart cities, and more.
Woven Planet Holdings Inc. makes strategic decisions for the group, Woven Core Inc. develops autonomous vehicle technologies, and Wolven Alpha Inc. explores new areas for business expansion and incubates innovation projects. Woven Capital L.P. is an $800 million global fund that invests in growth-stage companies and works closely with Toyota AI Ventures LLC. In addition, Toyota recently consolidated autonomous systems software development in its T-Hive unit.
Lyft was founded in 2012 and said it operates one of the largest transportation networks in the U.S. and Canada. The San Francisco-based company said its transportation-as-a-service network brings together rideshare, bikes, scooters, car rentals, and transit in one app. Lyft has been working with partners such as Aptiv PLC and Motional with the stated intention of deploying fully self-driving vehicles starting in 2023.
Woven Planet, Lyft to consolidate driverless R&D
The companies said the deal will bring together scientists and software engineers from Level 5 and Woven Planet with researchers from Toyota Research Institute Inc. (TRI) already working with Woven Planet. Level 5 claimed to have experience from more than 1 billion Lyft rides, with 43,000 miles in autonomous mode.
“The resulting combined 'dream team' of approximately 1,200 will represent one of the most diverse, well-resourced, and talented groups in this field,” said Woven Planet. The Toyota unit added that it will build “a robust set of sensing, computing, and software assets and strategic capabilities in automated driving systems.”
In addition to the acquisition of Level 5, the companies have signed commercial agreements for Woven Planet to use Lyft's system and fleet data for the safety and commercialization of the self-driving technology that it will develop.
“This acquisition advances our mission to develop the safest mobility in the world at scale,” stated James Kuffner, CEO of Woven Planet. “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,” he added. “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.”
Self-driving deals keep rolling
Lyft will receive approximately $550 million in cash, with $200 million paid upfront subject to certain closing adjustments and $350 million of payments over a five-year period. In addition to its Tokyo headquarters, the acquisition will provide Woven Planet with offices and engineering teams in Palo Alto, Calif., and London.
“Lyft has spent nine years building a transportation network that is uniquely capable of scaling autonomous vehicles,” said Logan Green, CEO of Lyft. “This deal brings together the vision, talent, resources and commitment to advance clean, autonomous mobility on a global scale.”
The global market for autonomous vehicles will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 63.1% between 2021 and 2030, predicts Grand View Research. Similarly, Allied Market Research forecasts a CAGR of 39.47% between 2019 and 2026, with the market growing from $54.23 billion in 2019 to $556.67 billion by 2026. Both analyst firms attributed the growth to concerns about traffic congestion and safety, improving technologies, and the rise of mobility as a service.
The Woven Planet acquisition of Level 5 is just the latest high-profile transaction or collaboration among self-driving technology providers, as companies race to improve autonomy, scale up for production, and commercialize their offerings. Last year, Waymo raised $3 billion, Xaiopeng Motors had a $1.5 billion initial public offering, and Amazon.com bought Zoox for $1.2 billion.
Lyft ride-hailing rival Uber Inc. sold its Advanced Technologies Group to Aurora Innovation Inc. for $4 billion in equity in December 2020.
Recent partnership examples include AutoX and Honda China collaborating on testing in China, Aurora and Volvo partnering on autonomous trucks, and Siemens Digital Industries Software working with the MaRS Discovery District in Toronto.
Race to autonomous driving is a marathon, not a sprint
Toyota has said that it plans to offer next-generation mobility services rather than fully autonomous vehicles. Both Woven Planet and Lyft acknowledged that the quest for SAE Level 5 autonomy will still take time, money, and effort.
“This acquisition significantly accelerates our ability to bring technology solutions forward with an influx of exceptional engineers and leading-edge technology,” said George Kellerman, head of investments and acquisitions at Woven Planet. “It also provides a solid foundation for international expansion and future hiring efforts in the world’s strongest talent markets.”
“We aim to become the center of interconnected mobility systems, weaving together a variety of technologies and partnerships extending far beyond the automotive industry,” he said. “This acquisition marks the first in a coordinated strategy to consolidate leading technologies and talent to help realize this vision.”
“With this deal in place, I am very excited that the Level 5 team will be better positioned than ever to deliver on its long-term mission to bring autonomous vehicles to market,” said Luc Vincent, executive vice president for autonomous technology at Lyft. “As part of Woven Planet, we will be able to leverage exceptional automotive engineering expertise, as well as the considerable resources of an iconic business, while continuing to move with the energy and speed of a start-up.”
About the Author
Eugene Demaitre is editorial director of Robotics 24/7. Prior to joining Peerless Media, he was a senior editor at Robotics Business Review and The Robot Report. Demaitre has also worked for BNA (now part of Bloomberg), Computerworld, and TechTarget. He has participated in numerous robotics-related webinars, podcasts, and events worldwide.
Follow Robotics 24/7 on Facebook
Email Sign Up
Get news, papers, media and research delivered
Stay up-to-date with news and resources you need to do your job.
Research industry trends, compare companies and get market intelligence every week with Robotics 24/7.
Subscribe to our robotics user email newsletter and we'll keep you informed and up-to-date.