Lyft Outlines Self-Driving Car Plans After Earlier Partnerships


Lyft said it doesn't see self-driving cars replacing its drivers - it hopes to create a "hybrid" network where passengers can choose either.

Lyft in 2016 lost $600 million despite a 250 percent jump in revenue; Uber lost $3 billion in the same year, according to Bloomberg.

"We're building a way for third parties to plug their self-driving cars into our network", said Luc Vincent, vice president of engineering at Lyft. The company is opening a new self-driving research facility in Palo Alto, CA. over the next few weeks, Lyft announced today.

Partners could decide to leave the Open Platform Initiative and develop their own software.

While Uber Technologies Inc. has embarked on a costly mission to develop self-driving vehicles, rival Lyft Inc. set a different course, relying on a partnerships for what many believe is the future of urban transportation.

"We want to take a proactive role into pushing the industry into a more open environment", Raj Kapoor, Lyft's chief strategy officer said at a media event Thursday. It's announced four such partnerships: General Motors, which is a major investor in Lyft; Waymo, the self-driving division of Google parent Alphabet; British carmaker Jaguar Land Rover; and self-driving startup NuTonomy of Cambridge, Mass. Lyft executives plan to test NuTonomy's self-driving cars as Lyft ride-hailed vehicles in Boston this year.

In a multi-outlet embargo bonanza, Lyft announced today that it's creating a self-driving vehicle division to be staffed by "hundreds" of new employees and located inside a 5,000-square-foot Palo Alto office. For example, a customer using the Lyft app would have the option to get an autonomous ride from either the company itself or one of its partners. As the Chron notes, recently deposed CEO Travis Kalanick once infamously bragged that the company's self-driving vehicles would allow him to stop having to pay "the dude" in the driver's seat. Or companies could be wary of teaming up with Lyft because it is developing its own self-driving system. In Lyft's ideal world, that could mean a quicker spread of Lyft's technology among automakers. The toolkit will offer mapping software, physical interfaces for drivers and passengers, path planning, and other necessary components of autonomous driving.

Partnering with an existing automaker or technology firm with advanced knowledge of autonomous driving systems seems like the safest and least expensive route - at least, in the short-term.

TechCrunch notes that Lyft's strategy may help it more smoothly navigate the rough regulatory waters that are facing autonomous vehicles in the years ahead.

"GM's plan remains steadfast - we are on track to launch our self-driving technology first in a ride-sharing application", the company said in a statement.