It’s been roughly two years since Lyft partnered with Dublin, Ireland-based Aptiv (formerly Delphi) to launch a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the former’s ride-sharing network. A product of Aptiv’s mobility and services group, they became available to the Las Vegas public beginning May 2018 on an opt-in basis. The two hit 5,000 rides sometime in August 2018 — in a matter of months — and by May 2019, Aptv’s self-driving BMW 5 Series cars equipped with lidar sensors, cameras, radars, and cameras had given 50,000 Lyft passenger rides.
But that’s small potatoes compared with the two companies’ latest milestone. Today, Lyft and Aptiv announced that they’ve crossed the 100,000 driverless rides threshold, and that 98% of customers who’ve taken rides have given a five-star rating. Furthermore, they reaffirmed that the cars now service over 3,400 destinations in the Las Vegas area, including restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, and other high-traffic locations like the Las Vegas Convention Center and McCarren International Airport.
The companies readily concede that the program isn’t fully autonomous just yet. Safety drivers are behind the wheel during every trip, and rides are required to be in manual mode in parking lots and hotel pick-up areas. But Lyft sees it as a valuable experiment in the nascent driverless robo-taxi segment.
“In the early days of Lyft, riders taught us important things like how hospitality plays a role in their decision to ride again or that there’s a ‘sweet spot’ of the amount of time people want to wait for their ride,” wrote Lyft in a blog post. “In the same way, this first generation of self-driving riders are teaching us about how they view this technology — and what we can do to continue to improve their experiences. Transportation serves all of us, and we are all invested in the next step of its evolution. We’re all on this journey together, and we can’t wait to hear what riders think about the next 100,000 rides.”
Aptiv, for its part, characterized the multiyear collaboration as a “blueprint” for how to bring self-driving vehicles to market. To this end, it highlighted its work with local governments and transit agencies such as Clark County and the City of Las Vegas, and the Regional Transportation Commission. It also noted that its Command Center — which furnishes its development team with data like vehicle health and diagnostics, vehicle ride status, and popular ride times and locations — enables it to keep vehicles on the road while serving passengers, complementing its garage with full-calibration lab spaces and car chargers.
To further its ambitions, in 2017, Aptiv acquired Boston-based NuTonomy for an estimated $400 million. And last September, it teamed up with automaker Hyundai to foster autonomous vehicle tech that’s level 4 and level 5 as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers — that is, completely self-driving in some or all situations.
Beyond its join operation with Lyft, Aptiv is piloting autonomous vehicles across Boston, Singapore, Las Vegas, and Pittsburgh. That’s in addition to its autonomous mobility center in Shanghai, which opened this past year, and out of which the company is testing cars in major Chinese cities.
“This [latest milestone is] meaningful … for Aptiv — and the entire mobility industry — as we deliver on our mission of enabling cities to be safer, greener, and more connected,” wrote Aptiv in a press release. “Feedback from our passengers has been a strong indicator that the public is becoming more comfortable with self-driving mobility.”
A brief history of Lyft’s self-driving efforts
Lyft’s Level 5 team is a group of data scientists, applied researchers, product managers, operations managers, and others working to build a self-driving system for ride-sharing. Since the division was founded in July 2017, the group has developed novel 3D segmentation frameworks, new methods of evaluating energy efficiency in vehicles, and techniques for tracking vehicle movement using crowdsourced maps.
Earlier this year, Lyft announced the opening of a new road test site in Palo Alto, California, near its Level 5 division’s headquarters. At the new center, engineers will mimic real-world driving scenarios involving intersections, traffic lights, roadway merges, pedestrian pathways, and other public road conditions, components of which will be reconfigurable.
The development comes after a year in which Lyft expanded access to its employee self-driving service in Palo Alto (where it has secured permission from city officials) with human safety drivers on board in a limited area. The company says in 2019 it increased the available routes “three-fold” and that it plans to grow the regions covered “rapidly.”
In November, Lyft revealed that it’s now driving four times more miles on a quarterly basis than it was six months ago and that it has about 400 employees dedicated to autonomous vehicle technology development globally (up from 300 previously). And according to the company, 96% of people who try hailing a driverless vehicle in the Lyft app say they want to do so again.
In May, Lyft partnered with Google parent company Alphabet’s Waymo to enable customers to hail driverless Waymo cars from the Lyft app in Phoenix. More recently, Lyft released an open source data set for autonomous vehicle development it said was one of the largest of its kind, with over 55,000 human-labeled 3D annotated frames of traffic agents, and it detailed the AI planning model behind its self-driving cars.
According to marketing firm ABI, as many as 8 million driverless cars will be added to the road in 2025, and Research and Markets anticipates that there will be some 20 million autonomous cars in operation in the U.S. by 2030.
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