Pretty much every ridesharing firm and automaker under the sun now has a crack team of engineers working on driverless-car technology aimed at transforming the way we get around.
San Francisco-based Lyft is no exception. While the ridesharing outfit still mostly uses human drivers for its people-carrying service, it has also been inking partnerships with various companies in a bid to drive its robot-taxi ambitions toward its stated aim of making cities “safer, greener, and more efficient.”
One such project kicked off in Las Vegas, Nevada at the start of the year, with Lyft claiming it to be the first-ever commercial robot taxi service.
Working with vehicle technology firm Aptiv, Lyft completed 400 rides in the space of just a few days using its BMW-made autonomous cars. Digital Trends had the opportunity to jump inside one for our own ride.
Happy with customer responses, Lyft decided to expand the service to 30 self-driving cars starting in May, offering 20 pick-up and drop-off points around the city.
The company announced this week that it’s now completed 5,000 self-driving rides, transporting paying Lyft customers to destinations along the Strip and beyond.
Riders can choose
Riders in Vegas can opt in to using the driverless service by tapping the option when prompted in the Lyft app. Then, when you request a ride, the service will offer a driverless car if one is available nearby. At this point you have another opportunity to accept or decline the autonomous vehicle. Declining will connect you to a human driver, and the trip will cost the same whatever choice you make.
According to Lyft’s own data, 96 percent of passengers said they intend to take more rides in its robot taxis, while 20 percent have already made several trips in them.
The average passenger rating for the experience currently stands at 4.96 out of 5 stars, suggesting the vehicles’ sensors, cameras, and other autonomous equipment is working exactly as it should.
There is, to be clear, a safety driver on board to monitor the car’s performance and answer any questions riders might have about the autonomous technology that’s taking them along the street.
Lyft doesn’t say whether there have been any technology failures during any of the rides, but says customers have so far felt “safe and at ease” during their trips.
Commenting on the milestone, Lyft chief strategy officer Raj Kapoor said his company is “committed to redefining our cities around people instead of cars,” with its autonomous technology central to achieving that goal.
Lyft isn’t the only outfit where regular folks are able to take rides in self-driving cars. Waymo, for example, has been testing its technology with the folks of Phoenix, Arizona since last year, offering rides in its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica minivans.
The next step for Lyft will be to reach the point where it’s ready to increase the number of driverless cars it’s using, and to expand the number of locations where the vehicles operate. Regulators will have to be happy to green light such a move, too.
The autonomous-vehicle industry was rocked earlier this year when a self-driving car operated by Uber knocked down and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. While companies are continuing to develop their technology, both they and state regulators are now moving ahead with a more considered approach in an effort to maximize safety.
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