Lyft will launch a pilot fleet of self-driving cars to pick up local passengers, the San Francisco-based ride-hailing company said Thursday, though it didn't reveal an exact start date.
The cars, which will belong to Drive.ai - not Lyft - will be four-door sedans outfitted with Drive.ai's self-driving sensors and software.
Lyft has autonomous vehicle partnerships with Alphabet's Waymo division, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover, and tech company Nutonomy. If the provider determines that it can operate effectively under those conditions, an AV will then pick up the rider.
"Pilot programs like this are vital to build public awareness and familiarity with autonomous vehicle technology", Sameep Tandon, CEO of Drive.ai, said in a statement. The partnership is a signal that Lyft learned its lesson from the failure of competitor Uber's self-driving vehicle launch in San Francisco past year.
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While Uber backed out of its own San Francisco program it is now running several other pilots, including one in Pittsburgh near its autonomous vehicle research center. As part of this endeavor, Lyft also said it was working on opening a new Silicon Valley engineering facility dedicated to autonomous vehicle development.
Such pilot programs are now expected to expand once the U.S. Senate approves a measure already cleared by the House to ease nationwide restrictions on testing autonomous and driverless vehicles.
The autonomous Lyft rides will have a human safety driver in case the machines go haywire, and a Lyft spokesperson tells CNet, "Lyft will invite passengers to participate in the public trial on a variety of roads in the Bay Area". It's now permitted for six cars and 12 drivers, according to the DMV.
Drive.ai will supply the cars and the software while Lyft will offer its vast network of riders. "For them to have a chance to actually ride in an AV vehicle is just so exciting".
Update, 9:28 a.m. PT: Adds comment from autonomous systems expert and University of Notre Dame professor Timothy Carone.