Lyft plans to debut self-driving auto rides for Boston customers

If things go well, the plan is for Lyft users to be able to hail rides from "thousands" of self-driving vehicles powered by NuTonomy's technology, starting in Boston, according to Recode.

Uber rival Lyft said Tuesday it would begin testing autonomous ridesharing in Boston under a partnership with the technology startup nuTonomy. That means ensuring comfort and safety throughout all aspects of a ride in an autonomous vehicle-including booking the trip, enhancing the performance of the driving system, and improving how it communicates with the rider.

What we do know, though, is that even though the Lyft / Waymo partnership was announced back in May, NuTonomy's self-driving cars will be the first ones available on Lyft's platform. But nuTonomy will have the honor of being the first to put autonomous vehicles on Lyft's network.

NuTonomy also plans to launch a self-driving on-demand service in Singapore in 2018. The ride-hailing company also has a partnership with GM, the auto giant which bought self-driving startup Cruise Automation for more than $1 billion.

NuTonomy has a Memorandum of Understanding with the city of Boston and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to operate its self-driving cars within a specific area - but that MOU doesn't include offering rides to members of the public.

Uber is attempting a similar concept to transition its ride-sharing network to autonomous driving - though the company is leading its own autonomous driving development and it has partnerships with automakers, like Volvo and Daimler.

Not to be outdone, Ford announced in February it's investing $1 billion over five years in Argo AI, which will work on software to run Ford's autonomous vehicles. NuTonomy, founded by MIT researchers Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, raised a $16 million Series A funding round a year ago.

The NuTonomy deal comes three weeks after Lyft announced a deal with Waymo, the self-driving vehicle unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc.

Lyft's move follows a similar effort by Uber, which has been using autonomous vehicles in a test program in some U.S. cities. Lyft will team with anyone - as long as they have a good chance at ushering in the next generation of autonomous mobility.

In the next few years, we'll see which of these current partnerships pan out, and who emerges as the big victor (or winners) in this sector. GM's deal with Lyft isn't exclusive, and Lyft CEO Logan Green has made it clear that Lyft's various partnerships don't directly overlap.

"At Lyft, we imagine a world where vehicle ownership is optional and cities are designed for people instead of cars", said Lyft co-founder and chief executive Logan Green.

Unlike Uber, which has been developing its self-driving cars in-house, Lyft has opted to work with partners.

What's next for Lyft and nuTonomy?

  • Zachary Reyes