The Fuse

Lyft, nuTonomy Ink Deal to Put Autonomous Vehicles on the Road

by Matt Piotrowski | June 07, 2017

Ride-hailing service Lyft has taken another big step to secure its position in the autonomous space. This week, the San Francisco-based company announced that it is partnering with nuTonomy, a start-up formed at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to develop autonomous vehicles (AVs).

Instead of building its own autonomous cars, Lyft is forming partnerships to help it gain an advantage in the self-driving arena.

The companies plan to analyze how consumers book and route self-driving cars and how they interact with them. Instead of building its own autonomous cars, Lyft is forming partnerships to help it gain an advantage in the self-driving arena. GM, which is planning to build thousands of self-driving Bolts next year, bought a stake in Lyft early last year, while last month Lyft announced a partnership with Waymo, Google’s self-driving unit.

Lyft is an attractive partner for these companies since it understands routing and the business of mobility and possesses key data on travel patterns and consumer habits. While working with GM, Waymo, and nuTonomy, Lyft can focus on its core strengths while not having to develop the autonomous technology itself.

“We are not disclosing the details of the work we are doing with each partner,” a Lyft spokesperson was quoted as saying. “Overall, we’re partnering with leaders in this space who share a vision of solving transportation issues and positively impact the future of our cities.”

Lyft sees the deal as advancing car-sharing and increased mobility in urban areas. “At Lyft, we imagine a world where car ownership is optional and cities are designed for people instead of cars,” said Logan Green, CEO and co-founder of Lyft in a statement. “Partnering with nuTonomy is an important step towards making this vision a reality. The nuTonomy team is one of the first movers in autonomous vehicle development, and we look forward to working with them to bring their autonomous vehicles to the Lyft network.”

“Both companies care immensely about solving urban transportation issues and the future of our cities.”

NuTonomy, in the same statement, highlighted the companies’ focus on revolutionizing transportation in cities. Karl lagnemma, CEO and Co-founder of nuTonomy, said: “Both companies care immensely about solving urban transportation issues and the future of our cities, and we look forward to working with Lyft as we continue to improve our autonomous vehicle software system.”

With the nuTonomy deal, Lyft will likely have an opportunity to transport its customers with AVs in the coming months. NuTonomy has been testing autonomous taxis in Singapore since August and began testing in Boston at the beginning of the year. In Singapore, nuTonomy’s experiment has been controlled with a safety driver behind the wheel, and all cars have traveled within a limited service area in order to stress-test the software in a real-world driving environment. NuTonomy will be able to operate its self-driving vehicles within a specific space in Boston, but the deal it struck with the city does not yet include the opportunity to give rides to the public. Lyft is talking to both city and state regulators and will launch its own pilot when it gets the okay from them.

By not developing autonomous technology itself, Lyft is taking a different course in this space than its rival Uber. Uber’s strategy has focused on developing autonomous technology on its own, believing that it needs AVs in order to compete as a ride-hailing service in the future. But it has had a number of big setbacks. Waymo is currently suing Uber for allegedly stealing trade secrets. While testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh, Uber angered the city as a result of charging consumers for rides that were originally advertised as free and withdrawing support for the city’s application for a grant to help it support its transportation infrastructure. Uber has had other nightmares this year. It has reportedly lost thousands of customers to Lyft, an internal investigation looking at its workplace culture led to 20 people being fired this week, and the CEO was caught on video yelling at a driver. Also with regards to AVs, leaked data indicate that Uber’s AVs travelled only 0.8 miles on average before a human driver had to take over, making it clear that the company needs to improve the technology before deployment.

With Lyft and nuTonomy set to bring self-driving cars to the streets of Boston in the near future, they will join the growing list of areas seeing AVs on the roads.

With Lyft and nuTonomy set to bring self-driving cars to the streets of Boston in the near future, they will join the growing list of areas seeing AVs on the roads. Uber has been offering rides in Pittsburgh, although, as noted above, the company’s relationship with the city has taken a turn for the worst. Both Uber and Waymo have deployed AVs in Arizona, where the state regulatory climate has been favorable to stakeholders. A large number of companies are meanwhile testing their vehicles in California.

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