Lyft says it will build its own driverless auto technology

Lucy Hill
July 22, 2017

Lyft had announced in June that it was partnering with nuTonomy, the technology company behind the autonomous cars. Uber began testing self-driving cars a year ago.

As the driverless auto program expands and becomes more battle tested - and accepted by passengers - Lyft said it will still have a need for "drivers".

The company said it expects there to be hundreds working on the development of the self-driving technology at its Palo Alto facility, which it expects to be open in a few weeks. The company plans to roll out a self-driving pilot program in Boston with autonomous vehicle company Nutonomy.

Sensors can be mounted on these cars to collect location information that helps Lyft build high-definition maps for autonomous driving, and the sheer size of the company's network could help it develop the know-how to navigate roads around the world at a rapid pace.

The Open Platform Initiative is expected to bring together industry leaders to collaborate on the technology, rather than developing it in a proprietary way like Apple did with iPhones. By opting to build such sensors - which are usually the single most expensive piece of hardware autonomous cars rely upon - the goal is to cut the price from existing models, and help make the vehicles themselves more affordable.

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By contrast, Lyft has taken pains to say that its human drivers aren't going away. "We need to be playing this role".

The move marks a striking strategy change for Lyft, which said previously it would leave the building of self-driving systems to others while allowing partners to test their autonomous cars in Lyft's ride-hailing network. "Some people prefer to have a human driver; in the short run there will be instances that self-driving cars can't handle".

The company is promising always to use a "hybrid network" in which drivers are on hand to assist the robot vehicles - noting that this is going to remain necessary indefinitely in numerous 350 cities worldwide where Lyft operates and where detailed maps are not available.

"I don't think this is a zero-sum game", said Taggert Matthisen, Lyft's senior director of product.

Lyft's 700,000 drivers complete more than 200 million rides and 1.2 billion miles (1.9 billion km) a year in the 350 cities where it operates, which executives said gave the company detailed knowledge of traffic patterns, bridges, construction and other roadway data critical for building autonomous systems. "It will happen in small pockets".

Other reports by TheDailyFarc

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