The latest trend in the development of self-driving vehicle technology is for companies to partner with third parties to get cars road-ready faster. On Monday, Jan. 4, two big names pushed that trend forward: General Motors and Lyft.
Lyft simultaneously announced Monday the raising of $1 billion in investor capital and a partnership with GM with the aim of providing Lyft access to rental cars in the short term and the deployment of on-demand self-driving cars in the long term. The partnership follows an announcement last month that Google would be working with Ford to build autonomous vehicles and a previous agreement between Uber and Carnegie Mellon University to collaborate on the company’s own vision for self-driving cars.
“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless and autonomous,” GM President Dan Ammann said in a press release. “With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly.”
GM is well established in the development and testing of autonomous vehicle technology, having worked with Carnegie Mellon in the past and announcing in October that it plans to introduce semi-autonomous features to Cadillacs in 2016.
All that experience will give Lyft a boost in its constant competition with its larger rival Uber. For now, the two companies are battling to provide on-demand driving services in urban markets across the U.S. and internationally. But in the future, Uber and now Lyft are publicly vying to add self-driving cars to their mobility-as-a-service business models.
Lyft co-founder John Zimmer told Buzzfeed News on Monday that part of the company’s vision includes providing different types of self-driving cars for different purposes, creating “experiences” that can be customized from person to person and from trip to trip.
Thought leaders commenting on the possible applications of autonomous vehicle technology have envisioned that step in the process as more than just a means of providing taxi-like services. Many, such as the consultancy KPMG, have suggested that the availability of self-driving, on-demand cars will make it more efficient and economically feasible for people to buy into mobility services than to own personal vehicles. In the future, a person might be able to schedule a ride to and from work with a company that owns a fleet of commuting cars.
Lyft and GM said in statements Monday that they hope to have self-driving vehicle fleets on the road within the next 10 years. The regulatory landscape might look different in the U.S. by then, but for now at least one state is pushing to disallow such fleets in the short term: The California Department of Motor Vehicles in December published draft regulations that would require a licensed driver to sit behind the wheel of autonomous vehicles at all times and be capable of taking over. While the department left open the possibility of allowing fully autonomous cars in the future, the current draft would stand in the way of cars that can leave a company lot to pick up commuters without a driver present and earn wages.
Meanwhile, most states lack such thorough regulation. Texas, for instance, lacks any laws regarding autonomous vehicles — despite the fact that Google has expanded its self-driving car testing program there, and Lyft has captured more than 40 percent of the ride-sharing demand in the state’s capital city.