In recent weeks, the ride-sharing company Lyft has been in the news, with coverage in many major outlets. That’s because the tech company has finally taken the same plunge into self-driving vehicles that its larger competitor Uber has been openly exploring for the last year or so. The difference between Lyft’s announcement and the open interest of its competitor is relatively simple, but it is also incredibly important. Lyft has set a clear timeline for the integration of its self-driving vehicles.
Rather than attempt to jump straight to autonomous vehicles that have the ability to self-navigate, Lyft has outlined a plan that will allow for the gradual phasing in and testing of self-driving cars in locations that have high potential. This first wave of driverless vehicles will only navigate pre-set routes that have been well-mapped.
After that, the company will begin phasing in vehicles that will navigate freely, taking customers to any destination they choose within the trial cities. At this phase, the vehicles will be limited to 25 miles per hour, but as they improve, the speed cap will be lifted. The third phase involves the widespread implementation of driverless cars in all Lyft cities, and the company estimates it will happen in 2021.
Lyft’s major competitor Uber has partnered with Ford to invest heavily in the artificial intelligence and safety features that driverless vehicles require. Similarly, Lyft has partnered with GM. In fact, the Lyft/GM partnership is even bigger news than the Uber/Ford deal, because GM bought a ten percent stake in Lyft and invested more than $500 million in the company as part of its commitment to making driverless vehicles work in American cities.
Company representatives are quick to point out the diverging future plans of both companies, however. Lyft has historically taken the position that ending automobile ownership in major cities is a goal for the future, whereas GM has openly spoken of ride-sharing as the first step for autonomous cars, with individual ownership close behind.
For the moment, though, both companies stand to benefit considerably if this partnership does yield a self-driving vehicle for ridesharing purposes. This is especially true if they can beat their competitors to market.