In the not-too-distant future, when you call for a ride on Lyft, there’s a chance that you might be hailing a self-driving car from Ford.
The two companies announced today (Sept. 29) that they will be partnering to bring Ford’s nascent autonomous-car service to Lyft. For Ford, it’s an opportunity to test the logistics of deploying self-driving cars at scale, and to learn more about how customers will interact with robot cars—much like its partnership with Domino’s is a way to to see how people will feel about getting a pizza delivered from a self-driving car. For Lyft, the partnership is part of the strategy that founder John Zimmer laid out last year, in which Lyft acts as the service layer through which its app users can access self-driving cars from a range of providers. (Lyft is also working on its own autonomous-car technology.)
Initially, Ford will deploy regular cars driven by normal humans to Lyft’s network. Ford said its developers are already working with Lyft’s to help them understand the logistics of sending cars around a city in real time: “The goal is that customers using Lyft won’t notice any difference in their experience.”
Eventually, Ford will also connect its self-driving cars to Lyft’s network, though not until it is “certain our technology delivers a positive, reassuring experience where we can gain meaningful feedback.” Ford has previously said that it plans to roll out a fleet of autonomous cars for ride-hailing in 2021. The company didn’t give any indication that its plans had changed with the Lyft partnership.
The interconnectedness of the budding self-driving industry continues to get ever more complicated. Lyft has also partnered with Waymo, Alphabet’s self-driving car division that sued Uber over allegedly stealing trade secrets about for its own autonomous car program. Ford also has sold cars to Uber for its self-driving experiments. Lyft is also partnering with another self-driving car startup, NuTonomy, to start bringing autonomous rides to the Boston area.
We’re still likely quite a few years away from reliable and safe self-driving cars actually hitting the roads, whether because of regulatory hurdles that will need to be overcome, or technological gaps that still need to be filled. Now companies are working to ensure that the reason we can’t hail a self-driving car isn’t because we don’t know how to find one.