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Toyota revs up its digital mapping subsidiary Woven Planet

TOKYO — Toyota plans to hire more people and invest heavily in its subsidiary Woven Planet to work on mobility technology. Hence, the Japanese automaker stays competitive amid the global shift to using artificial intelligence and robotics in everyday driving. Toyota’s traditional strength in hardware is something we never want to lose. To make safe mobility, we need both great hardware and great software.

Woven Planet Holdings Chief Executive James Kuffner said. “The world is changing, and the automotive industry is going through this once-in-a-hundred-year revolution. And so, how do we remain relevant? Woven Planet, wholly owned by Toyota Motor Corp., announced Thursday it had acquired CARMERA Inc., based in Seattle and New York. CAMERA specializes in sophisticated road-mapping updates that are cheaper and faster by using crowdsourced information obtained in real-time from the millions of net-connected Toyota cars on roads.

Kuffner stressed that winning social acceptance for such technology, which in the future will become commercial products, was as much a challenge as perfecting the software. “When a person crashes, we have empathy for that person. We all make mistakes, and we think: That could have been me. If a computer crashes, people have no empathy,” Kuffner said in an interview with The Associated Press from Portland, where he was visiting family.

Making a computer system that is just as good as a human may not be good enough.

Kuffner, who sits on Toyota’s board and is based in Tokyo, worked as part of the initial engineering team built Google’s self-driving cars. The latest Woven Planet deal follows the one in April to acquire Level 5, the self-driving division of Lyft, for $550 million. That deal, once approved, will raise the number of employees at Woven Planet from 860 to more than 1,000 people. But Kuffner said he wanted to possibly quadruple that number while acknowledging he was careful to avoid getting “too bloated or too bureaucratic.” The monetary value of Thursday’s acquisition was not disclosed.

San Francisco-based Lyft develops, markets, and operates a mobile app, offering vehicles for hire, motorized scooters, and food delivery. The addition of CAMERA is strategic for Woven Planet, whose Woven Alpha team is developing the automated mapping platform. Woven Planet, formerly called the Toyota Research Institute, has been collaborating with CAMERA since 2018. All major automakers are working on similar technology, and no one is ahead of the pack, said Koji Endo, auto analyst with SBI Securities Co. in Tokyo

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