We rode in an Aptiv-powered Lyft at CES, and it was the best kind of boring

With 2018’s Consumer Electronics Show around the corner, we prepared for the onslaught of autonomous vehicle demos by… taking an autonomous vehicle demo. What was different about this one, though, is that it’s something any CES attendee can experience for themselves.

Ride-sharing company Lyft and brand-spankin’ new automotive tech company Aptiv have partnered up to provide driver-free rides to 20 different locations in Las Vegas for the duration of the expo. We took a ride for ourselves to see just what was in store for any attendee hoping, maybe, to avoid the usual chit-chat.

The drive was… well, uninteresting. There was no drama or excitement or rush

The demonstration is staged in one of the Las Vegas Convention Center’s parking lots. From there, we walked through a “garage gallery” — basically an art installation representing some key points Lyft wants to impart that add up to its main theme: “ride sharing good.” It’s essentially four displays representing how parking spaces could be better utilized as something else, the costs of car components, and the minuscule time we spend per day with said car.

From that point on, we we’re able to summon a Lyft as anyone normally would from their smartphone. The experience is the same but when at one of the 20 designated spots in the city, the additional option to hail an autonomous vehicle crops up. The car itself is a BMW 5 series kitted out with an array of sensors: lidar, cameras, and radar. All told, the system has a viewing distance two football fields long and even utilizes the car’s adaptive cruise control to determine range. Though visible, these sensors are fairly well integrated throughout the panels of the car, not requiring a roof-rack array of gizmos to see its way around.

Lyft Aptiv ride experience
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends

We chose one of the hotels in the area as our destination and climbed in the back of our Lyft — which was “operated” by Eric, because Nevada law requires a person behind the wheel of a self-driving car on public roads. Just like the outside, the interior of the car had very little alteration. Aptiv retrofitted the existing BMW iDrive, where it rendered the different paths the car could and could not take, identified objects that could move (cars, motorcyclists, people at a crosswalk), and those that could not. It’s an important distinction when it comes to decision-making, and that certainly applies to self-driving cars.

The drive was… well, uninteresting. There was no drama or excitement or rush of fear, it was just… normal. And I think that’s the highest praise one could give to any autonomous vehicle. Even though Eric occupied the driver’s seat, it was clear at a glance that he wasn’t operating things. In fact, the only way to really tell the brief moments when Eric took over was by a tablet-like display that faces the rear passengers, which indicated when the car is in “auto” or “manual.”

Certain moments jumped out, however. As we moved to make a left turn at an intersection, we human occupants could hear sirens rapidly approaching. We all saw a vehicle with lights flashing coming down the lane we were about to cross — and so did the car. I eyed the screen, curious to see if Eric would intervene, but he didn’t and we remained in auto the whole time. The Aptiv spokesperson who joined us cleared up that the car didn’t recognize an emergency vehicle on its way, just that a car was coming our way and fast, so it’d better stop.

Aptiv and Lyft hope that these demonstrations go a long way in normalizing the idea of hopping into a self-driving car for consumers. It was surprisingly easy for us to accept the situation and trust the car’s abilities, certainly helped along by the fact that we saw what the car saw (or at least the fraction of its perception directly ahead). That normalization is likely the biggest obstacle autonomous vehicle advancement has, but once it’s overcome, Eric-less rides will be commonplace.

Sorry, Eric.

Cars

Apple’s interest in self-driving cars reported to be revving up

A new report suggests that Apple is in talks with a number of suppliers to purchase lidar sensors, an essential tool for self-driving cars. The news is once again spiking rumors that Apple might be building vehicles.
Cars

Toyota leads $1 billion investment in Uber’s self-driving tech division

In a move that has been a long time coming, Uber filed its S-1 documents, which sets the stage for the company to finally go public with an initial public offering. The company could be valued at more than $100 billion.
Cars

Kia’s HabaNiro concept is an autonomous electric car that knows when you’re sad

Debuting at the 2019 New York Auto Show, the Kia HabaNiro concept is supposed to preview the future of the everyday car. That future will include artificial intelligence tech that can read the driver's emotions, according to Kia.
Outdoors

Lyft pulls thousands of ebikes from three U.S. cities over safety issue

A brake problem affecting 3,000 electric bikes operated by Lyft-owned Citi Bike, Capital Bikeshare, and Ford GoBike has prompted the company to take the two-wheelers out of service until the issue is resolved.
Cars

More tech and more space make the Mercedes-Benz GLS the S-Class of the SUV world

Mercedes-Benz introduced the second-generation GLS at the 2019 New York Auto Show. The company's biggest and most luxurious SUV gains more tech features in its quest to become the S-Class of the SUV world.
Cars

Would you buy the Tarok compact pickup truck? Volkswagen wants to know

The Volkswagen Tarok pickup truck concept will make its United States debut at the 2019 New York Auto Show. The truck first appeared at the 2018 Sao Paulo Auto Show, and VW wants to see what U.S. buyers think of it.
Cars

Sick of civilization? Volkswagen’s Atlas Basecamp concept lets you get away

Volkswagen revealed the Atlas Basecamp concept ahead of its debut at the 2019 New York Auto Show. Built for overlanding, this family-hauler was upgraded jointly by Volkswagen and aftermarket manufacturers.
Cars

The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo sheds weight, uses racing tricks to stay sharp

The 2020 Nissan GT-R Nismo isn't dramatically different from the 2019 model, but Nissan made changes where it counts. The updated GT-R Nismo is lighter and offers better aerodynamic performance, according to Nissan.
Cars

Nikola previews $80K NZT off-road EV speedster with 590 horsepower

Nikola Motor is taking reservations for the NZT, a high-performance, all-electric off-highway vehicle (OHV). The $80,000 NZT has 590 horsepower, 775 foot-pounds of torque, and reaches 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds.
Cars

Bored with stock? The best tuner cars are begging to be modified

Modification has been around almost as long as the automobile itself. Here are 25 of the best tuner cars you can find, ranging from American muscle standouts to Japanese drift cars.
Cars

21 charged in Chicago carsharing heist; 100+ cars stolen, many still missing

More than 100 Mercedes-Benz vehicles belonging to carsharing service Car2Go were stolen in Chicago. Police are still working to recover all of the cars, which are equipped with GPS, and 21 people have been charged.
Cars

The VR goggles you wear to shoot alien ships is helping Magna design car parts

Canadian automotive supplier Magna has started using virtual reality in its research and development department. The technology helps engineers get a better view of what they're working on, whether it's an interior part or a powertrain.
Cars

From rugged wagons to hot sports cars, the 2019 NY Auto Show brought it all

From city cars to supercars, anything goes at the New York Auto Show. Automakers from all over the globe traveled to the 2019 show to unveil their newest concept cars and production models.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Samsung Galaxy Fold woes, zombie pigs, and more

Today's topics: Samsung Galaxy Fold, Facebook A.I. voice assistants, YouTube comes to Fire TV, facial recognition on airline flights, the SpaceX DART program, Yale's zombie pigs, and much more!