Lyft has announced that it is partnering with startup Drive.ai and will be making use of its retrofitting kit to start creating self-driving vehicles and testing them in the San Francisco Bay area in the near future. Drive.ai recently received the first self-driving test permit for the area and beat significantly larger companies like Google and Uber in doing so. Taking advantage of that, the company will be deploying its first test fleets in the city with trained Lyft drivers behind the wheel, ready to take over at a moment’s notice. Naturally, all tests will be in full compliance with applicable regulations. For the time being, no exact date has been set, nor has the size or location of the first test fleet’s deployment been announced.
Drive.ai just recently completed a $50 million funding round and will likely be using that money to help build enough stable, marketable products to retrofit this initial test fleet in collaboration with Lyft. The company is building its own self-driving system software and AI, but rather than building into vehicles, is building retrofitting kits that can turn the average vehicle into a road robot. The way that this initial test is going to happen is most likely going to be as simple as attaching these kits to a select number of active Lyft drivers’ vehicles and letting established Lyft drivers act as the safety fallbacks.
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Lyft’s press release mentions nothing about the company’s partnership with Waymo. Given Waymo’s ongoing court exchange with Uber, Lyft’s primary rival, the fact that Lyft is bringing in a new partner for the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles may complicate its relationship with Waymo. The pair is most likely still working together behind the scenes to develop specialized vehicles and get Google’s systems up to par, while the Drive.ai partnership will serve the purpose of getting a more primitive system out to consumers a bit earlier, allowing people a chance to learn to trust self-driving cars, and allowing Lyft to slowly build toward replacing some of its human drivers with Waymo’s software and hardware, though it remains to be seen how successful the company ends up being in that endeavor.