The Road To Level 5: Accelerating Lyft’s Self-Driving Development

By Luc Vincent, VP of Autonomous Technology

A Very Big Year

Last July, when I announced the creation of Level 5, Lyft’s self-driving division, I concluded by saying: “We’ve got a big year ahead of us.” Looking back, even I couldn’t have imagined just how true those words would be.

When we started developing self-driving technology, we knew that we were tackling one of the most difficult engineering problems of our time — and that we would need to build a team that matched the scale of this enormous challenge.

I’ve been thrilled by how quickly Level 5 has gone from vision to reality. Just over a year later, our self-driving division includes 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 from Waymo, Apple, Tesla, Zoox, Google, Microsoft, Ford and more. Our leadership team inspires me every day, with credentials to match: they have won technical Emmys, patented self-driving hardware and built optical systems for satellites, re-invented reCAPTCHA, and pioneered the use of GPUs for training convolutional neural networks.

They have also turned our Level 5 facilities in Palo Alto into a thriving hub of self-driving technology innovation, helping push the state of the art in autonomous perception, motion planning, controls, and much more. As a matter of fact, this work already stretches across the Atlantic, where our office in Munich, Germany — opened in January of this year — is building industry-leading HD mapping and localization technology.

Thanks to the team’s incredible work, our self-driving vehicles are live on public roads in California, and we expect to double the size of our team over the next 18 months as we scale our program.

The Latest Addition to our Team: Blue Vision Labs

Today, I am super excited to announce the latest addition to our team: we have signed a definitive agreement to acquire London-based company Blue Vision Labs, which will become the UK hub for Lyft’s Level 5 self-driving division. This is our first acquisition in the self-driving space and Lyft’s first in the UK.

Blue Vision Labs focuses on using computer vision to build large-scale robotics and augmented reality applications. It was co-founded in 2016 by Peter Ondruska, Lukas Platinsky, Hugo Grimmet, Andrej Pancik, and Bryan Baum, graduates from the University of Oxford and Imperial College London. Today, their 40-person team includes a number of the world’s leading experts in computer vision and robotics.

One of the reasons why Blue Vision Labs’ technology is so cutting-edge is that it can crowdsource highly detailed 3D maps of entire cities using just car-mounted camera phones. These maps allow a car to understand exactly where it is, what’s around it, and what to do next, with centimeter-level accuracy. And as our mapping lead Kumar recently explained in this blog post, this is an essential component for self-driving that cannot be achieved using GPS or traditional maps.

This technology will significantly accelerate our efforts toward developing safe and reliable autonomous transportation by combining geometric maps built using Lidar with those built using only cameras. While researchers have been working on similar problems for years, Blue Vision Labs is the first company able to build city-scale 3D maps from cell phone acquired imagery. This is truly amazing tech.

It also has applications well beyond self-driving. For example, we are keen to explore how we can leverage Blue Vision Labs’ stack to more precisely pinpoint drivers’ and riders’ locations, and create new augmented reality interfaces that make transportation simpler and better for everyone. Looking for your Lyft driver on the street? What if you could just hold up your phone and find them instantly:

Clearly, I am very excited about all of the ways Blue Vision Labs’ technology can help advance our existing and future products at Lyft. But as I met the team in London and San Francisco, it also became clear to me that they deeply understand why self-driving technology has the potential to be so transformative for our communities and cities.

We talked about how getting self-driving cars on the road would mean far fewer accidents — saving more than 350,000 lives a decade in the U.S. alone. We talked about how it would help millions of people avoid wasting their time in traffic, and instead dedicate hours to their families, their friends, or, well, whatever they want to be doing. We talked about how it would help more people share rides — leading to less pollution, less traffic, and more room for community and green spaces.

After that conversation, I knew: it is not just our tech that is a hand-in-glove fit — our missions are too. I couldn’t be more thrilled to welcome them to our team.

We’re Just Getting Started

The Lyft Level 5 team has moved with incredible velocity over the past year, and built a strong self-driving foundation. With all the talent we have added recently, and the addition of the Blue Vision Labs team and our new London office, I am convinced that our pace is only going to accelerate!

If you are interested in joining our efforts, please check out our open positions at lyft.com/careers. And keep an eye out for the London-based positions we’ll be adding soon.

Let me conclude by saying once more: We’ve got a big year ahead of us. And I can’t wait for you to see what’s next!