Ride-hail­ing ser­vice forms its own au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle unit, to open net­work

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - BUSINESS -

Lyft said Fri­day that it is set­ting up its own unit to de­velop au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy, but its ap­proach will be dif­fer­ent from other com­pa­nies and part­ner­ships work­ing on self-driv­ing cars.

The San Fran­cisco-based ride-hail­ing ser­vice said it will open its net­work, invit­ing au­tomak­ers and tech com­pa­nies to use it to haul pas­sen­gers in their self-driv­ing ve­hi­cles and gather data. It may even share com­puter soft­ware and sen­sor tech­nol­ogy.

Raj Kapoor, the com­pany’s chief strat­egy of­fi­cer, says Lyft is pur­su­ing the open strat­egy as a way to bring the en­vi­ron­men­tal and safety ben­e­fits of au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles to mar­ket faster. Lyft brings net­work ex­per­tise to the ta­ble, he said.

“We be­lieve this is in­evitable where the world is go­ing,” he said. “We need to be play­ing this role.”

Like other tech com­pa­nies and au­tomak­ers, Lyft has part­ner­ships with com­pa­nies like Google’s Waymo au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle op­er­a­tion and with Gen­eral Mo­tors. It does not want to pro­duce cars, but wants to make a stan­dard­ized sys­tem for use on its net­work. At first, the net­work will be open to Lyft’s cur­rent part­ners.

Just how it would make money off the sys­tem is yet to be de­ter­mined, but it likely would take a cut of pas­sen­ger fares from ev­ery­one who uses its net­work or shares its sys­tem.

For ex­am­ple, Gen­eral Mo­tors, which has in­vested $500 mil­lion in Lyft, would be in­vited to run its own au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles on Lyft’s net­work. Data gath­ered by GM and ve­hi­cles from other com­pa­nies would be used to help build high-def­i­ni­tion maps that are needed for the ve­hi­cles to nav­i­gate streets across the world. The data also would be used to de­velop com­put­ers that would make de­ci­sions to run the au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.

Lyft is call­ing its unit “Level Five,” the in­dus­try term for fully-au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles. It ex­pects to have sev­eral hun­dred em­ploy­ees work­ing on the ve­hi­cles in Palo Alto, Cal­i­for­nia, by the end of 2018.

The com­pany, which car­ries pas­sen­gers in 350 cities world­wide, says even when au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles are in op­er­a­tion, it will still have hu­mans in the driver’s seat. In many places, de­tailed maps won’t be avail­able to guide the au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles, so hu­mans will still be needed.

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