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Latest in Lyft: Testing Autonomous Cars, Trying to De-Throne Uber

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author photo by Lindsay Martell October 2017

Think self-driving cars are just a thing for big carmakers? Not so fast. Those needing a Lyft may soon be slipping into a semi-autonomous car in the Bay Area by the end of the year.

According to Recode.net, the ride-share company announced it'll be working with software developer Drive.ai to bring semi-autonomous cars to its fleet. A driver will still be at the wheel to take over when pedestrians are present or the software has issues reading the terrain.

Signing on Software

The ride-hailing company and its main competitor, Uber, have taken many steps to test semi-autonomous vehicles in an effort to eventually deploy cars sans drivers. Such vehicles wouldn't require the company to split fares with the driver.

Drive.ai is the fourth and latest autonomous software company to work with Lyft. It joins Cruise (owned by General Motors), Alphabet's Waymo and the Boston-based startup, nuTonomy, to get self-driving cars on the road. nuTonomy is expected to roll out its semi-autonomous cars on the Lyft platform in Boston by the end of the year.

Neither the transportation network service nor the software companies it's working with are spilling details about the autonomous push, but Recode is reporting that Lyft will invite customers to test the service for free, and the pilot will initially include the handful of cars Drive.ai has already been testing.

A Ford Friendship

In other ride-hailing news, late last month, Ford announced that it will work with the company to deploy its self-driving cars on the ride-hail service's platform by 2021 (perhaps throwing a wrench into the ride-hailing's partnership with General Motors…?) And now that the San Francisco-based company continues to ink new deals with software companies, it has plans to build a 50,000-square-foot engineering facility in Palo Alto, California to engineer driverless cars.

It's also been a banner year in terms of expansion for the ride-sharing service. In January, a spokesperson for the company told Business Insider that its goal for 2017 was to expand into 100 additional cities -- bringing its total up to 300 -- and to increase its reach from 55 percent of the country to 72 percent. But the company has gone above and beyond those benchmarks. In February, it nailed its city goal and began giving over one million rides per day in July. And in August, it surpassed Uber in growth.

Smiles (And More Cash?) Ahead

Lyft now covers all but 6 percent of the United States. As of August, the company is fully operational in 40 states and 94 percent of the US population. "Our smile is as big as our coverage area -- and since we've got the largest coverage area of any ride-share service in the USA, that's pretty big!" the company said on its blog.

On the financial front, the company is rumored to be shopping for an IPO advisory firm, which is the first step toward become a public company. It was valued at $7.5 billion in its latest funding round last spring.

What will this mean for lovers of Lyft? More cash for the company and a tech boost that could make ride sharing in driverless cars a reality.

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