Toyota Just Made a $550 Million Commitment to an Emerging Technology
In a recent deal, Toyota announced it has purchased Lyft’s self-driving car division, known as Level Five. This $550 million dollar investment into self-driving technology proves Toyota’s ambition to push its engineering capabilities further than ever.
Toyota isn’t alone in believing that automated vehicles (AVs) represent the future of transportation. Companies like Tesla already offer vehicles with “auto-pilot” modes.
The goal of AV technology is to provide an automotive experience that’s smoother, safer, and more efficient than conventional human-driven transportation. While AV technology is a new and uncertain frontier for the automotive industry, Toyota, as the world’s largest vehicle manufacturer, is going all-in.
Imagining the future: Toyota’s Woven Planet
According to The Detroit Bureau, in January of 2021, Toyota transformed their Toyota Research Institute–Advanced Development Inc. (TRIAD) into a subsidiary known now as Woven Planet. The decision to create Woven Planet was fuelled by a desire for Toyota to compete with Big Tech companies like Google and Apple—giving them a massive leap into the world of cutting-edge automotive technology.
By purchasing Lyft’s self-driving division, Woven Planet aims to provide Toyota with focused research and development into AVs, along with other technologies that line the frontier of the automotive industry. Woven Planet will subsequently acquire Lyft’s Level Five scientists and researchers to add to their own team.
This sector of Toyota announced that the new deal “significantly accelerates our ability to bring technology solutions forward with an influx of exceptional engineers and leading-edge technology.” But is the public ready for AVs?
Is the public ready for autonomous vehicles?
A 2020 poll conducted by Partners For Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) found that the general public is still unsure of the safety AV technology can provide. In fact, according to PAVE, 48% of American adults said that they would “never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously.”
However, the same report found that over half of American’s (58%) believe that within 10 years, AV technology will be sufficiently developed enough to be universally safe.
PAVE also noted that Tesla crashes involving auto-pilot mode, which have been largely publicized in news reports in recent years, have fueled fears held by the general public that AVs are still largely unsafe. A 2021 accident near Houston, TX, among others, has led some AV critics to call for greater regulation of self-driving vehicles.
Will Uber or Lyft ever be automated?
It’s a hard question to answer right now. The most likely answer? Yes, eventually, although don’t expect human drivers to disappear. Lyft still plans on keeping real drivers as the integral backbone of their ride-share business model for now.
This major deal between Toyota and Lyft indicates that although self-driving cars do represent a part of the future of transportation (and possibly ride-sharing), there are certain regions of the world where weather and service limitations will still inhibit safe AV operation.
It seems that while Toyota is heavily invested (quite literally) in the future of AVs, it’s going to be a while before we see anything revolutionary happen towards making personal and ridesharing vehicles completely automated. So until then, do your best to enjoy your non-robot Lyft driver.