The self-driving taxi revolution could soon be at hand as Lyft and GM prepare to test driverless cars on public roads.
A Lyft executive told the Wall Street Journal that a pilot program will launch within one year in a still-undisclosed city, using GM’s Chevrolet Bolt electric cars. Some details are still being ironed out, but the plan is to let users opt into the program wherever it happens. The self-driving technology will be powered by Cruise Automation, a startup that GM intends to acquire for more than $1 billion.
At first, the cars won’t be completely driverless. To make riders and government regulators more comfortable, someone will still sit in the cockpit to make sure nothing goes wrong. Lyft has also developed a companion app that lets riders stop or start the car, and connect to GM OnStar for assistance, the WSJ reports. Long-term, however, Lyft hopes to phase out drivers completely.
Self-driving cars face a fair number of regulatory challenges before they can hit the road in force. To that end, Lyft recently formed a lobbying group with Google and ride-sharing rival Uber to help guide driverless vehicle laws on the federal level. While some states such as Nevada and California have passed their own laws, the group is hoping for consistent rules that don’t hold back development.
Of course, there are technological challenges as well. To navigate through cities, cars must collect and interpret heaps of data, and must account for everything from weather conditions to unforeseen obstacles. For now, auto makers and tech firms such as Google are testing in a small number of cities—or even city-like testing grounds—to get things right.
Why this matters: While Lyft isn’t the only company testing autonomous cars, it’s the first to announce plans to make the technology available customers. As the program expands, and the cost of hailing a Lyft falls, it could have a major impact on not just on the taxi industry, but on vehicle ownership as a whole.