Ride-sharing platform Lyft is already competing with Uber in cities around the world to provide on-demand mobility. But this week, the San Francisco company took concrete steps toward competing in the driverless taxi space, too.
In July 2017, Lyft announced the creation of its own autonomous transport division, Level 5. Fifteen months and 300 engineers and researchers later – many of whom were picked up from Waymo, Apple, Tesla, and Ford – the company has unveiled its first self-driving vehicle: an adapted Ford Fusion Hybrid.
In an official blog post, Lyft’s VP of autonomous technology, Luc Vincent, confirmed that the self-driving vehicles “are live on public roads in California,” and that the Level 5 team is expected to double in size over the next 18 months.
Vincent adds that the company has also established an office in Munich, Germany, where Lyft engineers are developing HD mapping and localisation technology.
Lyft acquires Blue Vision Labs
Lyft has also announced the acquisition of UK augmented reality (AR) startup, Blue Vision Labs. The move will provide a London hub for the company’s self-driving efforts and integrate Blue Vision’s 3D mapping technology into Lyft’s future plans.
Blue Vision has developed a crowdsourced catalogue of detailed 3D maps via car-mounted camera phones. The maps provide more information to autonomous systems than conventional maps or GPS systems, allowing for problem-solving and computation to happen before a journey has even started, along with improved navigation in real time.
The company’s AR technology could also be incorporated into the Lyft platform to provide extra information to passengers and drivers, as visualised in the image below:
In his blog, Vincent explains how the bond with Blue Vision goes beyond a technology that’s fit for purpose, because the two companies share similar views on the future of autonomous transport.
“We talked about how getting self-driving cars on the road would mean far fewer accidents — saving more than 350,000 lives a decade in the US alone,” he writes.
“We talked about how it would help millions of people avoid wasting their time in traffic, and instead dedicate hours to their families, their friends, or, well, whatever they want to be doing. We talked about how it would help more people share rides — leading to less pollution, less traffic, and more room for community and green spaces.”
The move represents Lyft’s first acquisition as part of its autonomous car operation. Among the company’s investors are GM and Didi, both of which have ambitions and significant partnerships of their own in the race to get autonomous vehicles onto the roads.
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2019 will be a defining year for Lyft and key rival, Uber, with both companies going for IPO in a head-to-head contest for investors’ hearts, minds, and wallets.
While Uber is expected to raise six times as much money from its public listing, the pressures of being the poster boy for mobility are considerable. Every management change or shift in corporate culture (rightly) comes under the microscope.
Uber is also being pressurised to offload or spin out its driverless tech division, which has been a major cause of sequential losses. And in 2019, the company is raising its prices in London to help drivers build up personal funds to switch to electric vehicles at some point in the future.
In some ways, Lyft has an easier task while Uber sits at the head of the traffic queue, with its windshield covered in bugs.