Lyft is following Uber into self-driving cars

Posted July 22, 2017

That'll include computer vision algorithms, mapping AI, and all of the various systems for pulling together inputs from a range of sensors.

Petitions in the San Francisco Superior Court "are aimed at ensuring Uber and Lyft's estimated 45,000 drivers in San Francisco do not create a public nuisance", according to a statement.

Lyft's self-driving headquarters will be called the Level 5 Engineering Center, named for the level of self-driving that is entirely autonomous, compared to cars that require some human attention.

But Lyft says it is not just building ride-hailing apps, high-def maps, or even self-driving systems for autonomous cars.

"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.

Lyft had announced in June that it was partnering with nuTonomy, the technology company behind the autonomous cars. And going it alone with self-driving cars may well be impossible. While that happens, Lyft thinks its contracted human drivers will initially benefit from autonomous cars: "We believe that in the first five or more years following the introduction of autonomous vehicles, the need for human drivers will actually increase, not decrease", wrote Lyft cofounder John Zimmer on Medium last year.

But now Lyft is building an open platform for self-driving vehicles and plans to maintain existing partnerships. Lyft officials also hinted that the company will announce another partnership in the near future.

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.

It may seem odd to have so many businesses, some of which are direct competitors, collaborating on self-driving cars.

Lyft, in conjunction with nuTonomy, plans to have autonomous cars on the road in Boston by the end of this year.

Uber had the lead on ride-hailing and self-driving cars for a while, but it's encountered some roadblocks.

"What we're doing now is creating the software and hardware to enable a auto to be autonomous", said Kapoor.

None of those miles have been driven with autonomous technology, experts point out, meaning Lyft will be starting from scratch in a business where Waymo, Tesla and Uber have been operating for years.