On Tuesday, Lyft offered a glimpse of its brand-new self-driving car. It’s a Ford Fusion hybrid sedan with technology designed and built by the ride-hailing company’s in-house team of autonomous vehicle engineers. Lyft also announced the acquisition of Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality startup that uses computer vision to process street-level imagery.
Blue Vision was founded in 2016 by graduates from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London, and it only came out of stealth last March. According toTech Crunch, Blue Vision was acquired by Lyft for “around $72 million with $30 million on top of that based on hitting certain milestones.” The company’s 40-person team will become an anchor for Lyft’s self-driving operations in the UK, Vincent said. (The ride-hail company currently only operates in North America, but it’s reportedly considering expanding into European markets in the near future.)
The company develops “collaborative AR experiences” using technology as simple as a smartphone camera. In a Medium post, Luc Vincent, the company’s lead engineer, said the company’s technology is “cutting-edge” because it can crowdsource highly detailed 3D maps of entire cities using a smartphone or other camera mounted on the dashboard of a car. “These maps allow a car to understand exactly where it is, what’s around it, and what to do next, with centimeter-level accuracy,” he said. (Vincent knows a thing or two about maps; he helped pioneer Street View for Google Maps.)
The self-driving hardware and software of the Las Vegas fleet are developed by Aptiv, but these new vehicles are all Lyft. As Uber slims down and scales back its self-driving program in the wake of a fatal crash in Arizona earlier this year, Lyft is plowing ahead with its own project. The company, which is aiming to go public in early 2019 with a reported value of $15.1 billion, also plans to double the size of its self-driving team within the next 18 months, according to Vincent. “We’ve got a big year ahead of us,” he said.