Ride-hailing service Lyft Inc. LYFT has teamed up with Motional to bring self-driving taxis to cities around the nation, starting with Las Vegas.
The San Francisco-based company has unveiled an upgrade to an existing service that will allow users to hail a self-driving taxi on and around the iconic Las Vegas strip.
While this is an exciting upgrade, the company noted on Tuesday that in every vehicle, there will be two “safety drivers” who can take control of the car at any time if something goes wrong.
Lyft isn't the only company striving for a fully autonomous car. Here are some of the other players jockeying for the top spot in this corner of the tech sector:
Similar to Lyft’s new fleet, Tesla Inc. TSLA self-driving cars still require an active driver behind the wheel in case something goes awry. While the caveat can be seen as a setback, Motional Chief Executive Karl Iagnemma doesn’t see it that way.
“The technology needed for autonomous driving is enormously complicated," he said. "The solution will be found incrementally.”
As of now, there is only one public service operating a fully autonomous taxi with no safety driver needed. Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. NASDAQ: GOOGL), offers a driverless experience in the suburbs of Phoenix. The company is able to operate its “fully autonomous” taxis in Phoenix due to the predictable weather, lack of pedestrian traffic, and the rather straight roads the area has.
Expanding to San Francisco would be quite difficult because it has almost the exact opposite setting as Phoenix. The city’s heavy pedestrian traffic, windy roads, and unfavorable rain would cause the taxis to operate at speeds of 35 to 40 miles per hour. In addition, the taxi’s would need a safety driver and would have to halt operations during a rainstorm.
Similar to San Francisco, scaling in New York City would also be rather difficult due to extreme pedestrian/car traffic along with unpredictable weather.
While an important part of the industry is software and programming a car to have self-driving capabilities, the hardware needed is an important part as well. Many companies have been working with lidar (light detection and ranging) technology to produce the hardware needed to power these vehicles. One of these companies is AEye Inc. LIDR.
The Dublin, California-based company is working to create a sensor that, when mounted on a car, can detect an obstacle from quite a long distance. AEye has been working with companies such as Ford Motor Company F to test its sensors.
At a September 2021 event, the two companies worked together to mount a AEye sensor to the top of a Ford Fusion to test its capabilities, according to Car and Drive. It is believed that lidar sensors, such as the one AEye is creating, is the technology needed to bring fully autonomous cars to consumers on the future.
In 2015, then Uber Technologies Inc. UBER CEO Travis Kalanick poached 40 roboticists from the National Robotics Engineering Center at Carnegie Mellon University to work on the company's self-driving cars project. This quickly sent a signal that Uber, the most valuable startup in the world at the time, was on the cusp of revolutionizing the taxi and rideshare industry forever.
By 2020, the company sold the project to Advanced Technologies Group, which would later be acquired by Aurora Innovation Inc. AUR. Uber agreed to invest $400 million in Aurora as part of the deal, bringing Aurora’s valuation to $10 billion and tripling its workforce. In addition, Uber's CEO Dara Khosrowshahi became an Aurora board member. So while the Uber brand will not be working on self-driving cars like Lyft is, it has a stake in the game.
Benzinga’s Take: While Lyft’s upgrade is an exciting step in the right direction, it seems that companies are a ways away from fully autonomous vehicles/taxis. Yet, companies like Waymo have proven that the technology is possible and driverless taxis will one day become the norm.
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