Testing Self-Driving Rides With Employees

By | February 4, 2020

by Luc Vincent, EVP of Autonomous Technology

Since day one, Lyft’s mission has been to improve people’s lives with the world’s best transportation. We started by innovating ways for people to get around — first enabling neighbors to share car rides, then offering shared bikes and scooters. Over the last two and a half years, we’ve made significant progress toward building self-driving cars. They have the potential to save lives and make transportation more accessible for people, contributing to our mission in a big way.

Our approach

  • Serve the needs of Lyft riders. We’re starting with foundational knowledge about what riders want, like where they’d like to go, what makes the ride a good experience, and who might be interested in opting in to a self-driving ride. This is important because we believe most people will take their first self-driving ride on a rideshare network, and we can provide an experience they’re already familiar with.
  • Apply what we know about the real world. We know the routes, road complexity, rare scenarios vehicles face, and other valuable information about the over one million Lyft rides completed daily. We also know what types of obstacles our vehicles are likely to encounter and how often.
  • Focus on specific routes first. If we wait to solve every problem, it’ll take decades to see the benefits of self-driving cars in our cities. We’ve scoped the challenge to common routes, keeping us focused on solving the right problems first. This focus can help us develop this technology more efficiently and offer rides sooner.
  • Solve transportation problems faster. Self-driving cars aren’t ready to handle all conditions that drivers do. As a rideshare company, we can introduce them on specific routes where they’re able to operate safely, while ensuring riders can get where they need to go using our driver network. This hybrid network allows us to offer safe and reliable self-driving transportation to riders sooner, while we continue to advance our technology.

Our employee pilot

At the end of 2018, Lyft employees began to test Lyft’s own self-driving technology on routes in Palo Alto. These rides include two safety operators and offer on-demand transportation along set routes, like between the Lyft office and Caltrain. We’re making steady progress in the following ways:

  • Our routes are expanding. In the last six months, we’ve increased routes by three times, adding new pickup and drop-off locations in the app.
  • We’re learning a lot. Employees are contributing important feedback to our development, like how to create a smooth autonomous pickup experience. We’re learning how to build a self-driving car that’s catered to Lyft riders’ needs.
  • The tech is improving. Our system is handling real obstacles that vehicles on Lyft’s network encounter, such as cyclists riding outside of bike lanes. We’re driving four times as many autonomous miles per week as we were last year, helping accelerate the rate at which our technology improves.

We’ll continue to learn from employee ride testers, improve our technology, and expand our routes in the coming months. See the employee experience in Lyft’s self-driving cars in our video. We’re looking forward to sharing more of Level 5’s developments with you.

Testing Self-Driving Rides With Employees was originally published in Lyft Level 5 on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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