In a big move meant to beat their competitors in the autonomous vehicle space-race, ride-sharing service Lyft recently announced a partnership with automaker General Motors (GM) to test self-driving cars. The companies plan to have a fleet of Chevy Volts out on the road next year, although they will have humans in them in case of an emergency. The announcement comes after GM invested $500 million in Lyft and a separate acquisition of Cruise Automation, a developer of driverless technology, for $1 billion.
The move is strategic in several ways for GM as the new Chevrolet Bolts are fully electric and will be released to consumers later this year. Not only does the plan market the cars but also gets an edge on self-driving technology that will soon be the norm. Additionally, the new Bolt’s battery is smaller, allowing more seating for passengers and cargo.
GM Brings Innovation to All Sides
GM would allow Lyft drivers to rent a Bolt if they do not have access to an automobile that meets standards. The company currently rents out Chevy Equinox SUVs to drivers, however the Bolt would be far more sustainable and attractive to drivers concerned about gas prices.
“We will want to vet the autonomous tech between Cruise, GM and ourselves and slowly introduce this into markets,” said Lyft’s product director, Taggart Matthiesen. That will “ensure that cities would have full understanding of what we are trying to do here.”
Trust in Driverless Technology Needs to Develop
Details of the partnership are still being sorted out but it is planned to introduce a fleet of Bolts in a yet-to-be-decided city. People hailing a ride from Lyft will be able to choose whether or not they want the driverless technology used, allowing customers to take the experiment at their own pace.
Lyft is currently working on a new smartphone app that features a driver-less car option. The customer could contact GM OnStar if they need roadside assistance and complete their rides at the end by telling the car to go.
“At first we’re talking about a very small number of vehicles,” explained Matthiesen. “You’d start with a handful and slowly increase the supply as you gain confidence. Safety is paramount.” He added that it will take time for consumers to gain trust and confidence in driver-less technology.
The announcement is one of many in recent months regarding car-sharing businesses, automakers, and driver-less car technology, although the companies still have a ways to go before the vehicles are street legal. Several states and municipalities are currently working on legislation to help shape the autonomous driver space; a self-driving vehicle consortium was recently formed to help aid lawmakers in this process.
Also, the Cruise acquisition comes amid a legal challenge from one of the company’s founders, Jeremy Guillory. He claims that he is due a portion of the sale price because of his involvement in early development and venture capital efforts. Sam Altman, a former colleague, brushed aside the complaint, stating in a blog post, “Even if Jeremy had signed a stock agreement, he wouldn’t have reached the standard one-year cliff for founders to vest any equity.”