Lyft is aiming to be at the forefront of autonomous cars technology, announcing plans last week to form an autonomous cars and vehicles division that will operate out of a new centre in Palo Alto, California, US.
Named Level 5 after the term for fully-automated driving, the centre and its endeavours are expected to create hundreds of new jobs within the company, and will house a number of labs and open testing spaces for autonomous cars and technologies. It will also continue the development of Lyft’s open self-driving platform. Said Luc Vincent, VP Engineering at Lyft and, notably, the engineer who pioneered Street View for Google, “Lyft’s self-driving vehicles will operate on that network, alongside vehicles introduced by Lyft partners. In the years ahead, we will continue to bring the world’s leading automotive and technology companies onto this single platform to serve a nationwide passenger network.”
Lyft isn’t the first to delve into the world of autonomous cars—in fact, earlier this year, Uber announced a partnership with Diamler that will see the car manufacturer introduce and operate their own autonomous cars on Uber’s ridesharing network. Google also has had a self-driving car project in the works, which was recently spun off into its subsidiary, Waymo.
These competitors have more money available to spend on their autonomous cars and related projects, and got a bit of a head start on Lyft. According to Lyft, however, the company is positioned to succeed greatly in this area. Says Vincent, “Lyft has significant scale, which enables us to rapidly train our self-driving system. Every day, there are over one million rides completed on our network in over 350 cities. This translates into tens of millions of miles on a daily basis. We are already able to use the data collected during these rides to understand our world better, which helps us deliver a better experience for our passengers and drivers alike.” This, in conjunction with its open self-driving platform, may just give Lyft the boost it needs to steadily compete with its rivals.
Lyft has no plans—as of yet—to utilize autonomous cars exclusively. Instead, it plans to assess a customer’s needs and requests, and then send them the best fit. “Lyft will always operate a hybrid network,” the company said in their announcement, “When a passenger requests a ride that a self-driving car can complete, we may send one to complete the trip. If that person needs to go somewhere self-driving cars are unable to navigate, or their needs call for a different level of service, they will have a driver.”
This kind of versatility bodes well for Lyft’s popularity—not all consumers will be comfortable with autonomous cars right away, and the fact remains that infrastructure, even in many major cities, is not equipped to support them across the board. As the technology for autonomous cars transforms and continues to develop, consumers and investors alike would be wise to keep an eye on Lyft’s platform and plans.
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