Lyft and nuTonomy Launch Driverless Rides in Boston

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【Summary】If the trials are completed successfully, the next step could be integration with the local public transportation system.

Michael Cheng    Dec 12, 2017 2:22 PM PT
Lyft and nuTonomy Launch Driverless Rides in Boston

Lyft is making huge progress in its plans to combine driverless cars with ride-hailing services. Currently, the startup, through its partnership with nuTonomy, is testing a fleet of driverless vehicles in Boston, Massachusetts.

NuTonomy has years of experience testing autonomous fleets, in Singapore and other US cities. Before the timely announcement of the new trial, the business acquired a permit and conducted preliminary testing in South Station. The new trial differs from the startup's previous testing environments, which were mostly located in various industrial zones around the city.

Experiencing Driverless Cars

During the course of the pilot program, a human official will be overseeing rides around Boston, which is limited to the city's Seaport District. If the trials are completed successfully, the next step could be integration with the local public transportation system.

Selected residents will be able to hail a ride with an autonomous vehicle in the area using the Lyft app. NuTonomy's Renault Zoe electric cars will be used during the trial. A large amount of effort and focus is on enhancing the passenger experience, as well as the vehicle's ability to remain in control at all times.

"We want to let members of the public experience driverless vehicles firsthand, so they can better understand the impact this new technology will have on their lives," said the startup in a blog post.

The program was initially previewed back in June 2017. During the announcement, Lyft conveyed a partnership agreement with nuTonomy for the limited pilot. At that time, the startup was unable to reveal details about the self-driving project. It only reassured its customers and investors about its vision for addressing challenges with expanding ride-hailing services using driverless platforms.

Outside of the company's partnership with nuTonomy, it is nurturing a collaborative movement with Google's Waymo.

New Research and Development Facilities

Lyft is expected to make consistent advancements in the field of autonomous driving. Earlier this year, the startup revealed one of the most impressive development facilities for self-driving cars. Called the Level 5 Engineering Center, the Palo Alto-based research hub is dedicated to applying driverless technology to its massive ride-hailing fleet.

Interestingly, the company is not suffering from scaling issues experienced by its competitors. As a result, Lyft could tap its network, located in over 350 cities around the world, to advance its autonomous driving goals. For example, the business could streamline the data collection of traffic patterns and peak periods without reliance on local partnerships.

"We aren't thinking of our self-driving division as a side project. It's core to our business," cited Luc Vincent, vice president of autonomous technology at Lyft. "That's why 10 percent of our engineers are already focused on developing self-driving technology — and we'll continue to grow that team in the months ahead."

At the moment, the ride-hailing giant does not plan to fully replace its human-powered fleet with autonomous cars. According to a recently published blog post on Medium, Lyft clarified it is dedicated to operating a hybrid network, wherein self-driving units are deployed for common routes and human drivers handle complex bookings. 

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