- Woven Planet Holdings, a Toyota-created entity formed to invest in, develop, and eventually bring to market future transportation technologies such as automated driving, has acquired HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed sum
- It will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Woven Planet under the terms of the agreement
- Carmera will essentially serve as the American outpost of Woven Planet’s automated mapping platform (AMP) team, which is based in Tokyo
- It has been working with Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development for three years, which was the impetus for Woven Planet
Woven Planet Holdings, a Toyota-created entity formed to invest in, develop, and eventually bring to market future transportation technologies such as automated driving, has acquired HD mapping startup Carmera for an undisclosed sum.
The announcement comes less than two months after Woven Planet Holdings paid $550 million for Lyft’s autonomous vehicle unit, Level 5. It also comes on the heels of Nvidia’s acquisition of DeepMap, which was announced in June.
Carmera will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Woven Planet under the terms of the agreement. According to Woven Planet CEO James Kuffner, the startup’s 50-person team will maintain offices in New York and Seattle and will eventually be integrated into Woven Planet’s 1,000-person-and-growing enterprise.
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. Carmera’s technology was also used by Baidu to support the open-source Apollo mapping project.
To keep that AV maps up to date, the company uses data crowdsourced from its fleet-monitoring service product. The fleet product is telematics and video monitoring service used by professional fleets to manage risk and improve driver and vehicle safety. As they go about their daily business in cities, these fleets of camera-equipped human-driven vehicles add new data to the autonomous map.
Carmera’s product line has evolved over time. It enhanced its autonomous map with real-time events and change-management engine and developed a spatial data and street analytics product for cities and urban planners. Carmera launched its Change-as-a-Service platform last year, a collection of products that detect changes and can be integrated into other third-party maps.
“The problem I’ve always had with some of the HD map companies is that it’s nice to have this capability, but until you figure out how to scale it, host it, and keep it updated, you’re stuck in the ‘I-have-a-neat-piece-of-software-that-someone-is-going-to-buy-from-me role,” said Mike Ramsey, VP analyst at Gartner. “This deal solves Carmera’s scale problem.”
How has Carmera come into the limelight?
While Carmera is small in terms of size and capital in comparison to Woven Planet, those who follow the industry may have predicted this union.
Carmera has been working with Toyota Research Institute-Advanced Development for three years, which was the impetus for Woven Planet. The company first took part in a proof-of-concept project in Japan to create camera-based automation of HD maps for urban and surface roads. In 2020, the partnership expanded to include mapping of roadways in Detroit and other parts of Michigan, as well as roads in Japan.
“It was really easy to invest a lot into the relationship,” Gupta reflected on Carmera’s first collaboration with Toyota in 2018. “The vision was just so similar; it’s almost eerie comparing our seed deck from five years ago to what Woven Planet’s overall vision is and their vision for this automated mapping platform.”
Woven Planet (and, by extension, Toyota) already has satellite mapping and massive amounts of data gathered from its millions of vehicles on the road today. Carmera brings dynamic mapping as well as experience in commercial fleets and safety to Woven Planet’s portfolio.
“For me, there are immediate near-term applications that we’ve already worked on as proofs-of-concept with Carmera, and that we haven’t yet announced, but are in the area of safety and automated driving,” Kuffner said, noting that the automaker’s new Lexus LS and Toyota Mirai models will offer Teammate, an advanced driving assistance technology that uses HP maps. “I’m really excited about that generation of products, but absolutely for fleets.” Maps in high definition. Fleets have a wide range of applications.”
What is Woven Planet weaving?
The acquisitions of Lyft and now Carmera are just a sliver of Woven Planet’s many activities since its inception, as the automaker seeks a competitive edge against established rivals and upstarts, particularly in the software space. The entity, based in Tokyo and a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp., consists of two operating companies, Woven Alpha and Woven Core, as well as a venture capital fund, Woven Capital.
Woven City, a testing ground for new technologies set in an interconnected smart city prototype, is another project of the holding company. Toyota broke ground in February 2021 at the future Woven City site, the Higashi-Fuji site in Susono City, Japan, at the foot of Mount Fuji.
Woven Alpha and Woven Core, formerly Toyota Research Institute — Advanced Development Inc., are the two operating companies. Woven Core includes the mapping unit and focuses on automated driving, whereas Woven Alpha is in charge of developing new concepts and projects, such as the prototype city.
Woven Capital, on the other hand, invests in next-generation mobility innovations. In March 2021, the VC arm announced an investment in Nuro, an autonomous delivery vehicle company, to kick off its new $800 million strategic funds.
Woven Capital made an undisclosed investment in Ridecell, a transportation software startup that has developed a platform to help car-sharing, ride-sharing, and autonomous technology companies manage their vehicles, last month.