Lyft kicks its self-driving car effort into overdrive, gives Google, GM a run for their money

Key Points
  • Lyft is starting its own self-driving unit.
  • Until now, it has relied entirely on partnerships to develop the technology.
Lyft plans to launch new self-driving car division

Lyft is opening its own autonomous driving facility in Palo Alto, California, and creating its own self-driving team, the company said Friday.

Until now, the company has relied on partnerships to push into autonomous driving and catch up to chief rival Uber's efforts. It's signed deals with some of the biggest players in the space — from Alphabet's Waymo to start-up nuTonomy to carmaker GM, a major Lyft investor.

It's part of what Lyft calls its "Open Platform Initiative." Before this the company has mostly relied on its partners' teams of engineers and technology and been content to provide the ride-hailing network.

This is the biggest move Lyft itself has made into the space, and the company will be developing its own technology.

"Lyft is also uniquely positioned to build technology in collaboration with partners in a way that will make it possible to roll out self-driving cars at scale in the fastest, safest, most efficient way," said Luc Vincent, Lyft's vice president of engineering.

The company expects there to be "several hundred" working on self-driving technology at its Palo Alto facility by the end of 2018. The facility is set to open in a few weeks. It's unclear how many will be new hires.

Lyft is not, for now, developing its own LIDAR technology, but didn't say whether that would change in the future. If Lyft did, it could potentially put it in competition with partners like Waymo that are developing their own LIDARs. (Waymo is currently in a fierce courtroom battle with Uber over that exact technology.) But Lyft says its technology will coexist with others.

"We look at this as an opportunity to take what we're developing and give it to others," said Raj Kapoor, Lyft's chief strategy officer. "For self-driving to work as an industry, there has to be more sharing."

On Lyft's "open-self driving" platform, it hopes to offer customers access to vehicles from its partners, such as Waymo and nuTonomy, and will also be offering cars with its own Lyft self-driving technology.

Lyft said it doesn't see self-driving cars replacing its drivers — it hopes to create a "hybrid" network where passengers can choose either.

"When a passenger requests a ride that a self-driving car can complete, we may send one to complete the trip. If that person needs to go somewhere self-driving cars are unable to navigate, or their needs call for a different level of service, they will have a driver," Vincent said in a post published Friday.