Lyft announces new self-driving auto division

Posted July 22, 2017

Based in Palo Alto, the Level 5 facility will house hundreds of engineers that will work on developing the open self-driving system.

Lyft will build sensor packages and leave the majority of the vehicle development to its partners, it said. "The only way to do that is to go deeper and to develop these technologies".

"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.

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Lyft has announced plans to develop its own self-driving auto capabilities so it can begin offering autonomous rides by the end of the year in some locations.

Lyft said its technology will be an agnostic, open platform that will allow a multitude of partners to bring in their own self-driving vehicles that can simply plug into the Lyft network and operate autonomously.

The move comes as its main competitor, ride-hailing giant Uber, runs rudderless after its founder Travis Kalanick resigned last month following a chain of scandals.

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However, Lyft employs a team to work on regulatory matters and has made in-roads in Washington for other issues in the past. And going it alone with self-driving cars may well be impossible. Or companies could be wary of teaming up with Lyft because it is developing its own self-driving system.

The plan is a reversal for the company, which previously arranged research partnerships with companies already involved in the development of self-driving cars - including Jaguar Land Rover, General Motors, Neutonomy and Alphabet Inc.'s Waymo.

The company is promising always to use a "hybrid network" in which drivers are on hand to assist the robot vehicles - noting that this is going to remain necessary indefinitely in numerous 350 cities worldwide where Lyft operates and where detailed maps are not available.

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Uber's approach is closer to that of Apple: Both companies want to control most of the product, whether the software or the hardware. But on Thursday, Lyft preached a hybrid system where human drivers will take over self-driving cars for locations and situations deemed too chaotic and hard for machines. It visualizes a hybrid network of human-driven and self-driving cars, with the system selecting whichever is best for a passenger's requested route. By opting to build such sensors - which are usually the single most expensive piece of hardware autonomous cars rely upon - the goal is to cut the price from existing models, and help make the vehicles themselves more affordable.