Playing Catch-Up to Uber on Self-Driving, Lyft Teams Up With Partners

Playing Catch-Up to Uber on Self-Driving, Lyft Teams Up With Partners

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A Lyft driver responding to a ride request in San Francisco in February. Lyft on Tuesday announced a partnership with nuTonomy, a self-driving car start-up.

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Stephen Lam/Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO — Uber is spending millions of dollars to make self-driving cars on its ride-hailing network a reality. Now Lyft, one of Uber’s biggest competitors, is striking a series of partnerships to do the same.

Lyft on Tuesday announced an agreement with nuTonomy, a self-driving car start-up, to eventually bring thousands of nuTonomy’s autonomous vehicles to Lyft’s ride-hailing network. The partnership will initially focus on research and development related to the customer experience of summoning an autonomous vehicle, Lyft said. It is part of a larger outreach to the autonomous vehicle industry to join what Lyft calls its “Open Platform Initiative” to work with the ride-hailing company.

“Our ultimate responsibility is to bring the best autonomous vehicles to Lyft’s millions of passengers,” Logan Green, Lyft’s chief executive, said in an interview. “And since it’s very early in the development life cycle of autonomous vehicles, we’ll explore many partnerships to learn with and from partners to help figure out what passengers want.”

The agreement is part of Lyft’s broader move into autonomous car-sharing. Mr. Green has long postulated that the future of transportation will be less focused on private car ownership.

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The Race for Self-Driving Cars

There are increasing signs that autonomous cars have arrived — and may be driving on our city streets sooner than we think.



OPEN Graphic


But Lyft is behind others in making inroads into that future. Uber, for example, has hundreds of engineers in Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Toronto working on its self-driving technology, and it has outfitted Volvos and Ford Fusion vehicles with cameras, lasers and other hardware for research purposes. Uber has recently been embroiled in a lawsuit over autonomous vehicle technology with Waymo, which operates under Google’s parent company.

Lyft’s approach to self-driving vehicles is different from Uber’s. It does not have teams of engineers developing technology for autonomous driving. Mr. Green described how Lyft instead plans to be involved in multiple partnerships, whether with self-driving software developers like nuTonomy, or with automakers like General Motors, a major Lyft investor.

Last month, Lyft confirmed it will partner with Waymo on self-driving products. Both companies have yet to disclose the details of the arrangement or what kind of collaboration is to be expected.

“We see ourselves as a kind of Switzerland,” Mr. Green said. “We don’t think there will be a single player that will win the whole autonomous vehicle game.”

Founded in 2013, nuTonomy was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, last year, raised $16 million in venture capital. NuTonomy has been testing its self-driving software with riders on public roads in Singapore for about a year, and it will begin its pilot program with Lyft in the Boston area, where nuTonomy’s headquarters are, in the coming months.

Karl Iagnemma, chief executive of nuTonomy, said he looked forward to working with Lyft, as “both companies care immensely about solving urban transportation issues and the future of our cities.”

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