Lyft Acquires London-based Augmented Reality Startup Blue Vision Labs
Lyft's smartphone app might one day include augmented reality features. The ride-hailing company announced today it is acquiring Blue Vision Labs, a London-based augmented reality startup. Blue Vision Labs specializes in using computer vision technology to add AR features street-level imagery. Blue Vision's technology will help accelerate Lyft's efforts toward developing autonomous transportation.
The AR company will become Lyft's first UK office and become part of Lyft's Level 5 division, which focuses on the company's autonomous driving development. Lyft's Level 5 division is based in Palo Alto, California.
The purchase price was reported to be "around $72 million with an additional $30 million contingent on hitting certain milestones." according to TechCrunch, which first reported the news.
Blue Vision Labs was co-founded in 2016 by Peter Ondruska, Lukas Platinsky, Hugo Grimmett, Andrej Pancik, and Bryan Baum, graduates from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. Today, their 40-person team includes experts in computer vision and robotics.
The company has a unique approach to gathering data. It crowdsources highly detailed 3D maps of entire cities with centimeter-level accuracy using just images captured from car-mounted smartphone cameras. These highly detailed maps allow a car to understand exactly where it is and the environment around it. Blue Vision Labs says it's the first company able to build cloud-based, city-scale 3D maps from cell phone acquired imagery.
Adding Augmented Reality Features to Lyft's App
In March of this year, Blue Vision Labs launched its AR Cloud, a technology that allows developers to create shared AR experiences. One potential application of Blue Vision's AR cloud is to connect Lyft passengers with their drivers by overlaying the car's position or the Lyft company logo directly on the rider's smartphone screen in augmented reality. The technology can be used to identify a specific Lyft vehicle from others on a crowded city street.
The key part of Blue Vision's technology is creating highly accurate AR map of entire cities, which are stored in the cloud and continuously updated. The cloud houses the AR content and also allows users' smartphones to determine their exact location with centimeter-level precision, based only on the visual information from the camera. Using this technology, Blue Vision can turn entire cities into giant digital canvases, upon which immersive AR experiences can be built.
In a blog post, Blue Vision Labs wrote "We are very excited to be working with Lyft to contribute to their efforts in enabling the future of autonomous mobility."
Blue Vision Labs also announced that it raised $14.5 million in Series A funding led by GV (formerly Google Ventures). GV joins current investors Accel, Horizons Ventures, SV Angel and others who led the company's previous $2.7 million seed round.
Lyft said that its Level 5 self-driving division has grown to include 300 world-class engineers and researchers, many of whom have worked on some of the most ambitious projects of the past two decades. The team includes autonomy and robotics experts who worked at Waymo, Ford, Apple, Tesla, Google and Microsoft.
Lyft's self-driving vehicles are already being tested on public roads in California. In a blog post, Luc Vincent, VP of Autonomous Technology at Lyft, wrote that the company expects to double the size of its Level 5 team over the next 18 months, as the company scales it autonomous driving program.
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