A self-driving Lyft could soon give you a ride around San Francisco.
Lyft is adding another name to its growing list of collaborators via a partnership with Drive.ai, a Mountain View-based self-driving startup. The pair will launch a new pilot program in the Bay Area with Drive.ai self-driving cars on Lyft’s open autonomous platform, putting driverless cabs on the streets for the first time since Uber’s service flamed out of San Francisco last year.
Drive.ai will take advantage of Lyft’s ride-hailing app to connect with passengers while testing out its self-driving technology in its own fleet of vehicles, which will be operated by trained safety drivers who will take the wheel if needed. Riders will have a chance to opt out of an autonomous ride on the app.
Lyft hopes to collect data to improve the passenger experience in self-driving cars, while Drive.ai will use the partnership to hone its autonomous systems and expand its reach. The deal is similar to Lyft’s partnership with nuTonomy to bring self-driving cabs to Boston, which was announced earlier this year.
This will be the first public partnership for Drive.ai, which emerged from stealth mode in 2016 after spinning out of Stanford’s AI lab.
The startup is known for its emphasis on familiarizing the public with self-driving tech, which will continue to be a focus during the Lyft trial, Drive.ai president and co-founder Carol Reiley told Mashable. She said the company has been testing its tech on public roads in California since last year, but this will be the first time the public will have a chance to ride in its cars.
Drive.ai’s self-driving technology is designed to be used in retrofit kits for multiple vehicle types, so there won’t be one specific make or model used for the program, like how Waymo’s Phoenix program deploys Chysler Pacificas. The pilot will launch with a sedan (the company has shown off its system in Audis in the past), but Reiley said the company has a diverse set of vehicles set aside for the program as it expands for further testing.
There isn’t a firm date for the trial to start, but Reiley said that she thinks the partners are “almost there.” Notably, Lyft’s pilot program with nuTonomy in Boston hasn’t launched, even though it was announced back in June. A Lyft rep told Mashable that, “we continue to stay on track for our nuTonomy pilot to launch in the coming months” in an email when asked for an update. These two programs and the regions in which they’ll operate are very different, however, so there might be a chance that the Bay Area’s driverless Lyfts could hit the roads before Boston’s.
The partnership is just another chance for Lyft to build on its self-driving efforts. The company has ties to GM, Jaguar Land Rover, and Waymo, and it recently announced it’s developing its own autonomous tech. The company wants to have a fleet of driverless cabs picking up riders everywhere by 2021, after all, so it’s doing everything it can to hit that target.
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