Economy

Lyft to offer rides in self-driving cars in San Francisco area

Lyft to offer rides in self-driving cars in San Francisco area”

The ride-hailing company said Thursday it's partnered with autonomous vehicle software company Drive.ai to bring self-driving cars to the city's streets. For Lyft riders, the experience will resemble a typical ride, she said. The company has tried using emoji-base signaling, to avoid language issues, and "safety sounds", to allow drivers to send different messages to pedestrians, from angry honks to courteous acknowledgements.

Passengers who participate in the trial will get a ride free of charge, Taggart Matthiesen, Lyft's director of product, said in an interview. "If they accept that, our autonomous vehicle would pick them up. From the app side, it would look relatively the same, but they would have a special experience with the autonomous auto".

"We want to make sure the experience feels as much like an autonomous vehicle experience as possible", Reiley said. "We want people in the vehicle to feel very safe, to have a pleasant experience and to be delighted".

Drive.ai is a startup spun out of Stanford University that creates AI software and assembles sensors and other hardware to retrofit cars, turing them into autonomous vehicles.

There is no financial agreement between Lyft and Drive.ai for the test, but Reiley said Drive.ai hopes to better understand the economics of ride-hailing through its partnership. "The service would need to be regulated by the (commission) if it were made available to members of the general public rather than just (Drive.ai) employees", for example, through a ride-hailing app, commission spokeswoman Terrie Prosper said in an email.

A test involving picking up Lyft passengers would require a permit from the commission, Prosper said.

Lyft said, "We will run the pilot within the bounds of all applicable regulations".

The program is Lyft's latest push into autonomous cars since announcing in July a new self-driving auto division, including a facility in Palo Alto, California with hundreds of engineers who will work on autonomous technology and collaborate with other autonomous vehicle companies. Its focus is on self-driving kits for large commercial fleets.

Lyft offers companies a way to slowly expand autonomous driving to the masses "in a safe and reliable way", says Drive.ai cofounder Carol Reiley. Startups generally train their self-driving vehicles with deep learning technology, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allow a computer - essentially the car's brain - to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. On a recent test drive in a blue Lincoln MKZ, it kept the sign off, on the premise that the cars are already distracting for other drivers, according to Tory Smith, a Drive.ai technical program manager. Reiley declined to specify the number or exact model of vehicles in the pilot, but said they will initially be four-door sedans.

In July, Lyft went a step further and announced it was launching an open platform to give companies working on self-driving cars access to its ride-sharing network of almost 1 million rides per day.

Uber has been testing robot taxis with passengers in Pittsburgh and Phoenix.

As for when passengers will be able to catch a ride in one of these cars? And it's now embroiled in a lawsuit filed by Waymo alleging that it stole trade secrets when it acquired Otto, which was started by longtime Google self-driving project engineer Anthony Levandowski.

Lyft has taken a two-pronged approach. It struck its first partnership in January 2016 with GM, a deal that included the automaker investing $500 million into the company.



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