Toyota Motor Corp’s research arm announced the acquisition of Carmera, a provider of maps and data for driverless vehicles based in the United States, on Thursday, marking the Japanese automaker’s latest investment in autonomous technology.
The acquisition, made through newly formed subsidiary Woven Planet for an undisclosed sum, underscores Toyota’s push to beef up its self-driving arsenal as traditional automakers compete with tech titans such as Apple and Amazon’s autonomous ambitions.
Toyota’s acquisition of Carmera will provide it with real-time, high-definition maps and crowdsourced inputs required for autonomous vehicles to locate and navigate themselves, the companies said in a statement. Since 2018, the two companies have worked together on projects such as technology that accurately updates repainted lane markings on high-definition maps.
Carmera will essentially serve as the American outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is based in Tokyo. Ro Gupta, Carmera’s co-founder and CEO, will report to Mandali Khalesi, AMP’s CEO.
Carmera launched in 2015 with a barter-type business model that relies on data collected from a free service it offers to commercial fleet operators to maintain and expand its primary mapping product. Carmera’s main and initial product is a high-definition map created for customers of autonomous vehicles such as automakers, suppliers, and robotaxis. Voyage, an autonomous vehicle startup acquired by Cruise this year, was an early Carmera customer.
“It is very well aligned with our global expansion as a company,” Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner told reporters in an interview on Wednesday.
Woven Planet was founded in January with the goal of investing in and developing mobility through artificial intelligence. It is constructing a prototype “future city” called Woven City at the foot of Mount Fuji, powered by hydrogen fuel cells and serving as a testing ground for self-driving cars. With the acquisition, Woven Planet plans to develop and sell an open map platform to original equipment manufacturers and automakers looking for accurate and up-to-date data, according to Kuffner.
“With Carmera, we’re just accelerating, and we’ll continue to accelerate… and look for strategic partnerships or acquisitions,” Kuffner said, adding that he hoped to “double or quadruple” Woven Planet’s size in the next few years through organic growth and acquisitions.
Toyota earlier this year paid $550 million for Lyft Inc’s self-driving technology unit and invested in Ridecell, which provides fleet business automation. Other self-driving collaborations include a joint venture with SoftBank Corp, stakes in China’s Didi Global Inc and Singapore’s Grab, and a consortium with General Motors Co, suppliers, and chipmakers.
Toyota has increasingly married its storied manufacturing process with more recent acquisitions of startups and Silicon Valley know-how to develop the next generation of cars as it moves into new and non-traditional car manufacturing such as driverless and electric technology.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty in the automotive space right now,” Kuffner said.
“The only thing I know for certain is that it will look very different in 10 or 30 years.” The only thing we can do is try to create the future through investment…take profits from Toyota’s existing business and invest them in the future to create the Toyota Group’s future.” Most automakers, including Toyota, offer Level 2 automation, in which the car steers and accelerates but the driver must be ready to take the wheel, and experts predict that fully self-driving cars will be years away.
Nonetheless, Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk stated earlier this month that a beta version of its technology supporting fully autonomous driving with no driver intervention will be available in “a month or so.”
Earlier this year, Toyota rival GM unveiled a fully autonomous all-electric flying Cadillac concept vehicle.