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December 7, 2017

Lyft riders can now take a driverless-car trip in Boston

by John_A

How long will it be before ridesharing services dispense with drivers altogether and start sending autonomous cars out onto the streets? Pretty soon, if the likes of Lyft gets its way.

The ridesharing company that once stuck furry pink mustaches to the front of its cars is already working hard on its driverless vehicle program, and has just launched a pilot scheme to test out the technology.

In June, Lyft partnered with nuTonomy, a technology company specializing in driverless car systems, to test autonomous vehicles. And now it’s putting them on the road in Boston’s Seaport district.

“Select passengers” using the Lyft app are being offered the chance to hop inside one of nuTonomy’s modified Renault Zoe electric cars for a short ride around the Seaport area — if they want to go further afield they’ll have to transfer to a human-driven car. A nuTonomy engineer will also come along for the driverless ride and be ready to take the controls in the unlikely event of anything going wrong.

NuTonomy says the trial has two primary goals: First, it wants to give members of the public the chance to try out the technology for themselves instead of simply hearing or reading about it the whole time. Once they’ve experienced a ride in a self-driving car, it wants to use feedback from the passengers to help improve the technology “so that we can deliver an autonomous transportation experience that is extremely safe, efficient, and comfortable,” the company said in a release.

With rival ridesharing service Uber also developing the autonomous technology, Lyft is continuing to invest heavily in its own efforts. In the last year in particular, it’s been inking a lot of partnership deals with relevant firms. Besides nuTonomy, it’s also hooked up with the likes of Alphabet-backed Waymo, Ford, and GM. Lyft also recently received a permit to test self-driving cars on the streets of California.

Confirming beyond any doubt that its interest in self-driving vehicles is not, as one of its own executives put it, “a side project [but] core to our business,” Lyft opened a research center in Silicon Valley, California, just last summer.

The company’s president, John Zimmer, said last year that breakthroughs in autonomous vehicle technology will mean that “by 2025, owning a car will go the way of the DVD,” and that even earlier, in 2021, the majority of Lyft rides will be in self-driving cars.

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