This has been a big week and a big year for small autonomous vehicle startups. This morning, General Motors announced that it had purchased Cruise Automation, a Silicon Valley-based autonomous vehicle startup of 40 people that already has a permit from the California DMV to test its systems on public roads in that state. And on Wednesday, Toyota hired all 16 employees of Jaybridge Robotics, a Massachusetts-based self-driving car company.
In GM’s case, Re/code reports that anonymous sources say the American automaker spent more than $1 billion to acquire Cruise, which will remain in Silicon Valley while it works under GM’s umbrella. Cruise had previously raised $18.8 million in funding, and it recently released a $10,000 after-market system that would make an Audi A4 or S4 self-driving.
GM is hardly being under-the-radar about its self-driving car ambitions. Earlier this year, the automaker pledged $500 million to Lyft to partner with the ride-sharing company in autonomous taxi research. A few weeks later, it also bought the defunct ride-sharing service Sidecar.
On Toyota’s ledger, Jaybridge was not technically purchased by the automaker, rather all 16 employees of the seven-year-old company were hired to work at Toyota Research Institute, which is run by a former MIT professor and program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency according to the Wall Street Journal. Jaybridge itself has ties to MIT and its staff includes hardware and software engineers.
Toyota also hasn’t been so secretive about its desire to dominate in the autonomous vehicle market. A recent report from Thomson Reuters’ Intellectual Property and Science Division showed that Toyota has 1,400 autonomous vehicle patents—more than twice as many as any other autonomous vehicle maker currently in the market. That’s even more than Alphabet’s Google, which is widely considered to be a pioneer when it comes to self-driving cars. Of course, the quality of patents is more important than the number of patents that a company has, but Toyota’s prolific portfolio shows that the company isn’t taking a wait-and-see approach.
With its latest move, the Japanese automaker continues to throw around hundreds of millions to the developing self-driving car market—it pledged to devote $1 billion to autonomous vehicle research in 2015, and ostensibly the new hires from Jaybridge are part of that.