Lyft plans to debut self-driving car rides for Boston customers
Boston commuters may soon be able to take a self-driving Lyft around the waterfront, thanks to a new partnership between the ride-hail giant and the Boston-based startup nuTonomy.
“We will be bringing the first autonomous vehicles to the Lyft network,” said Logan Green, chief executive of Lyft. “We’re planning for future stages of this that could lead to thousands of nuTonomy cars on the Lyft platform."
The companies said they have been working with Boston officials, and Lyft said the service would not launch without explicit approval from regulators.
The Lyft trips will abide by Boston and Massachusetts’ regulations, which include requiring a safety driver who can take over control at any moment.
If approved, in a few months, Lyft customers will be able to take rides in nuTonomy’s self-driving electric Renault hatchbacks, the companies said.
Spokespeople for the companies said the rides will be limited to a portion of the Seaport where nuTonomy is already allowed to test its self-driving cars. The company has three cars right now.
“Everybody’s moving toward getting these autonomous cars ready,” nuTonomy chief executive Karl Iagnemma said. “It’s more than just the car, you’ve got to have the car, and you’ve got to have that network.”
The goal of the Seaport trips, the companies said, will be to better understand how passengers interact with driverless cars, what their concerns are, and the best way to show that the car is safe.
Green and Iagnemma would not say exactly how the rides will work, but said there will be another version of the Lyft app inside the car to communicate.
“The goal of our work together is to understand the user experience, of a user hailing an autonomous vehicle,” Green said.
The partnership does not include any financial arrangement.
NuTonomy also tests in Singapore, and was the first company to offer a self-driving taxi service under a pilot program in partnership with Grab, a ride-for-hire company popular in Asia. That pilot service picks up and drops off passengers in a designated part of Singapore in entirely autonomous taxis.
Those rides also include a safety driver and a company engineer who are monitoring and ready to take over the car if necessary. The company said it plans to launch a complete taxi service in Singapore next year.
NuTonomy has been testing its autonomous electric Renault hatchbacks in Boston's Seaport since the beginning of the year, graduating from a lightly trafficked industrial park to busy streets near the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and office and condo towers.
Massachusetts has had a process in place for approving self-driving car tests since Gov. Charlie Baker signed an executive order last year, but officials are still grappling with how to regulate companies that want to transport passengers. Two other companies have approached the state about autonomous vehicle tests that include transporting passengers.
“I will confess that is something I did not consider when the (executive) order came to us,” said Katherine Fitcher, who is leading MassDOT’s AV efforts, at an autonomous vehicle task force meeting last month.