Lacuna Technologies, a startup that helps cities create and enforce transportation policies by building and managing open-source digital tools, has raised $16 million in a Series A round, bringing the company’s total investment to $33.5 million.
Since the startup was founded in 2018, Lacuna has invested in helping cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and Miami build digital twins, or software models of real world cities – including all forms of mobility from delivery to rideshare to drones to regular traffic. City planners and transportation agencies can use these models to monitor the current environment and implement new regulations, as well as run simulations to provide a clearer picture of how certain policies could address congestion, pollution, accessibility and safety.
With the fresh cash, Lacuna CEO Hugh Martin says the company is focusing on expanding to new markets and building out the applications that can be placed on top of the digital twins, like adjusting freight or delivery curb parking rates to reflect demand or putting a cap on the number of drones allowed down a given street per day. That means first hiring new engineering teams to build digital twins and connect applications in order to help cities get revenue flowing.
“The federal government collects billions of dollars in gasoline taxes, which is largely used to fund departments of transportation at the federal, state and local levels, and that’s headed for zero,” Martin told TechCrunch. “What are we going to do? The gas tax has been a good proxy, but we need to find a new way to effectively monetize the public right of way, as well as get control of it. And I define the public right of way as not just 2D, but 3D. Where are the drones going to fly, where are the aerial taxis going to take off and land and how is the city going to communicate policy to those devices in real time?”
While cities focus on real world public right of way, including all the street connections, speed limits and parking rules, Martin says new mobility companies like Uber or FedEx are building up digital models of cities and operating their businesses on top, and the city has no way of accessing them.
“What would be super powerful is if instead of just having the physical world, the city has a digital copy of itself, with digital policies that could then be used by all operators,” said Martin.
Rather than using historical data to plan out cities, Martin says Lacuna’s services have a more operational focus. For example, Waze routes cars based on congestion using its own digital twin. This can cause hundreds of cars to go down a little side street when the highway is clogged up, which might annoy those who live there. If the city had a digital twin, it could assess the width of the street, whether it’s residential or commercial and the speed limit, and put a cap on the number of cars Waze can reroute down that street, thus preserving quality of life for those living on that street.
“Our objective is to give cities the tools they need so that they can use their authority to make sure that the users of the public right away are compliant with whatever their policy is,” said Martin.
In Los Angeles, for example, Lacuna built a system to help LA manage its scooter fleets back in 2019.
“Venice Beach was a mess, there were scooters all over the boardwalk and the beach and being thrown in the water,” said Martin. “So we helped LA establish a geofence 200 feet off the boardwalk. LA gave scooter operators a two month grace period, but warned them if at the end of those two months, if riders cross that geofence, the city would start lowering the total number of units each operator could have on the streets.”
To ensure observance, the city council rewrote the regulatory language for getting a scooter permit, requiring operators to be compliant with the city’s mobility data specification program, meaning operators would have to transmit and receive information digitally.
“Now, it’s night and day,” he said. “The scooters are all lined up 200 feet away from the boardwalk. And what was amazing for the city is that it was just 15 lines of code. They didn’t have to put a bunch of officers out, put signs up, write tickets.”
This round was led by Xplorer Capital Management, and includes Playground Global, the company’s founding investor. Participating investors include JetBlue Technology Ventures and Lauder Partners. Along with the funding news Lacuna is announcing the addition of Keith Nilsson, MP and co-founder of Xplorer, to the company’s board.
Update: This article was updated to reflect a wider range of investors in this round.