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GM and Lyft: We'll Have Self-Driving Taxis on the Road in 2017

The companies plan to test self-driving taxis as part of a race to get automated vehicles on the road.

Lyft and General Motors say they’re going to put self-driving taxis on the street next year.

Not in a full-bore, industry-shaping sort of way, but as a sort of demonstration project. According to the Wall Street Journal, the partners are planning on selecting a city — as of yet undetermined — to serve as a test bed where customers will be able to opt in or out of summoning a self-driving taxi.

The companies are still working out some details of the program, according to the Journal, but one thing they know right now is that they will still have “drivers” in the vehicle in case a human needs to intervene with the vehicle — meaning the cars could be as low as level two under the Society of Automotive Engineer’s definitions of autonomy.

While the Journal wrote that the company expects to eventually move past the need for human drivers — and indeed, is racing against fellow ridesharing giant Uber to develop a self-driving taxi service — the temporary presence of human drivers in the vehicles means that they won’t quite reach the level of autonomy that would allow them to fully flip the script on transportation.

And that is what many in the automated driving industry see happening in the future — a model where self-driving vehicles allow people to be productive while sitting in their vehicles, or possibly even where personal car ownership is no longer necessary. Lyft has started taking a swing at the latter idea with a carpool service currently in the test phase in the San Francisco Bay Area. Drivers can receive payment from riders for driving them to and from work, giving commuters a way to get where they need to be without personally owning a car.

The move follows a $500 million investment in Lyft that GM made last year and comes amid GM’s planned acquisition of Cruise Automation.

According to the article, Lyft has already built a prototype app that would allow users to choose whether they want to take a self-driving vehicle. The app would also connect with OnStar in case the rider had any problems and would allow the passenger to dismiss the car after arriving at their destination.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.