The ride-hailing company Lyft has announced that it is developing self-driving technology, joining a growing list of automobile and technology companies moving forward with automated driving. The company plans to open a self-driving research center in Palo Alto, California, recruiting engineering and technical staff as the facility opens in the next several weeks.
According to Luc Vincent, vice president of autonomous technology at Lyft:
“We aren’t thinking of our self-driving division as a side project. It’s core to our business. That’s why 10 percent of our engineers are already focused on developing self-driving technology — and we’ll continue to grow that team in the months ahead.”
Lyft’s larger competitor, Uber, has opened facilities in Toronto, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco, all specifically for the purpose of researching autonomous driving, spending millions to create its own hardware and software. Other companies including Google’s Waymo outfit, and several major auto companies, are also researching self-driving vehicles.
Lyft’s approach will differ from Uber’s, however. Instead of working independently like Uber, Lyft is creating an “Open Platform Initiative” to develop self-driving technology in cooperation with other companies.
“We want to bring the whole industry together with this, and we think there’s a unique opportunity in time right now for Lyft to become a leader while doing it,” according to Lyft’s chief strategy officer Raj Kapoor, speaking to the press at their San Francisco headquarters.
Many automobile companies are planning for a future with lower rates of car ownership. Cooperating with Lyft’s project could make the technology available much faster, and auto companies could provide the vehicles to Lyft to use in their ride-hailing network.
So far, Lyft’s partners in the project include Waymo, General Motors, Jaguar, Land Rover, and self-driving startup nuTonomy. There are risks involved in the more collaborative strategy. Companies could leave the Open Platform Initiative to create their own proprietary software. Others could avoid working with Lyft if they see it as a rival developing their own autonomous driving systems.
However, executives from the company have emphasized that the development of autonomous vehicles is still in its beginning stages – competitors may still have much to gain from cooperation on research, they argue.
Mr. Kapoor said:
“Lyft is not getting into the business of manufacturing a car. We’re on our way to creating a self-driving system. Then the auto industry can bring it to life.”