Lyft to send its own self-driving cars out on the country’s biggest test track

Lyft Aptiv ride experience
Alex Kalogianni/Digital Trends

Lyft’s autonomous-car program is stepping up a gear after the company on Thursday, March 8 announced plans to take its own driverless vehicles onto the roads of the largest secure test facility in the country.

The ridesharing company will test its technology at GoMentum Station, the former U.S. Navy weapons station in Concord, California, which features some 20 miles of paved roads around a private, 5,000-acre site.

Commenting on the partnership with GoMentum, Lyft’s vice president of engineering, Luc Vincent, said his company believes “in a future where self-driving cars make transportation safer and more accessible to everyone,” adding that the deal allows it to “test our self-driving systems in a secure facility and advance our technology in an efficient way.”

GoMentum Station, which opened as a test site for driverless vehicles in 2014, also features a range of buildings that help simulate an urban setting for the car trials. While many companies are already testing self-driving cars on public streets, the closed-off site allows engineers to try out new technology that might not yet be reliable enough for public highways.

Lyft has been investing heavily in its self-driving ambitions with a view to one day incorporating the technology into its ridesharing business, and last year opened a new research center for autonomous cars in Palo Alto.

“We aren’t thinking of our self-driving division as a side project,” Vincent said at the time. “It’s core to our business [and] that’s why 10 percent of our engineers are already focused on developing self-driving technology.”

The imminent launch of test drives at GoMentum Station appears to indicate the company is proceeding at a steady clip with its autonomous-vehicle project.

Along the way, Lyft has been happy to forge partnerships with a growing number of companies that have a stake in the development of self-driving cars.

The firm has hooked up with Boston-based self-driving specialists NuTonomy, for example, with whom it’s already testing driverless taxi rides. It also has a deal with Jaguar Land Rover, which has plans to provide Lyft with driverless cars for its main business, and it recently teamed up with automotive tech firm Aptiv to ferry people around at CES in driver-free cars.

But the current state of some of these partnerships isn’t particularly clear. For example, Lyft has offered few details on its work with Waymo since the pair revealed a collaboration last year, and General Motors, which invested $500 million in Lyft in 2016, was last year reported to be making overtures toward Uber, which has its own well-publicized self-driving ambitions.

Whatever’s happening behind the scenes, Lyft is clearly making progress with its own project, and its cars will soon be tootling along the roads of GoMentum Station alongside other prototype self-driving vehicles from the likes of Toyota and Honda, which are already making use of the facility.