After working on Tesla’s Autopilot team for 2.5 years, Andrew Kouri and Erik Reed decided to start their own self-driving, AI-based company rightfully named lvl5. Together with iRobot engineer George Tal, lvl5 aims to develop advanced vision software and HD maps for self-driving cars.
Founded in 2016, lvl5 was incubated at renown Silicon Valley incubator Y Combinator and later raised $2 million in seed funding from investor Paul Buchheit, who’s a partner at Y Combinator and creator of Gmail, and Max Altman’s 9Point Ventures.
“Working with lvl5’s founders while they were at Y Combinator, it was clear they have unmatched expertise in computer vision, which is the secret sauce of their solution,” said Buchheit. “I have no doubt this is the team to make self-driving a reality in the near term.”
At the center of lvl5’s technology is their computer vision algorithms. Founder and CTO George Tall previously specialized in computer vision technology at iRobot. In addition to Tall’s experience at iRobot, Kouri and Reed’s experience at Tesla undoubtedly left them with unparalleled expertise in computer vision.
Instead of turning to expensive LiDAR technology, lvl5’s computer vision analyzes its environment for stoplights, signs, potholes, and other objects. The system can be accurate to 10cm, a notable measure considering it’s derived from simple cameras and smartphones. In comparison, LiDAR systems can cost over $80,000 but are accurate to 3cm.
So how will lvl5 map roadways in the world using their computer vision technology? Smartphones. Well, for now at least. The company has released an app called Payver that allows anyone’s smartphone to collect data while driving and get paid between $.01-$.05 per mile, depending on a number of factors. Users of the app place their phone in a mount on their dashboard and let the app gather driving data.
The data is sent to lvl5’s central hub and processed by their computer vision technology. “Lvl5 is solving one of the biggest obstacles to widespread availability of self-driving technology,” said Max Altman, one of lvl5’s seed round investors and partner at 9Point Ventures. “Without accurate and efficient HD mapping, as well as the computer vision software that enables it, self-driving vehicles will take much longer to reach mass-market. This will delay everything from safer roads to efficient delivery services.”
“We have to make self-driving available worldwide – not just in California,” Co-Founder and CEO Andrew Kouri said in a company statement. “Our approach, which combines computer vision software, crowdsourcing and widely available, affordable hardware, means our technology is accessible and will make self-driving a reality today, rather than five years from now.”
The company has already established pilot programs with major automakers and both Uber and Lyft. Companies will pay lvl5 an initial fee to use the maps, along with a monthly subscription to keep the maps continuously updated. “Through its OEM-agnostic approach, lvl5 will be able to collect significant amounts of mapping data from millions of cars in order to scale the technology for the benefit of drivers and pedestrians around the world,” the company’s press release states.