Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company, and Lyft, the second-largest ride-hailing company in the country, have announced a partnership that could help bring autonomous technology to U.S. streets fast.
Although neither company has made an official announcement, representatives from both independently verified the partnership in statements. According to the New York Times, the two companies will “work together to bring autonomous vehicle technology into the mainstream through pilot projects and product development efforts.”
It's easy to see how the two companies will complement each other. Waymo is looking for real riders to use its services: It’s currently searching for families and people with disabilities to help test its autonomous minivans in the Phoenix area. Lyft needs tech: Even though the company has made statements saying its entire fleet will be automated in five years, it needs a technology partner to make this a reality.
“We’re looking forward to working with Lyft to explore new self-driving products that will make our roads safer and transportation more accessible,” Waymo said in a statement to Recode. “Lyft’s vision and commitment to improving the way cities move will help Waymo’s self-driving technology reach more people, in more places.”
The implications of Waymo and Lyft working together are huge. Consider just the sheer amounts of data collected by these transportation technology giants. Google, and now Waymo, has logged over three million autonomous miles on U.S. streets, while Lyft has trip data from five years’ worth of rides in 300 cities.
The partnership also raises questions about how the companies will work together going forward. Both companies have recently inked high-profile automaker deals. Waymo is partnered with Chrysler on its autonomous minivan fleet, and in 2016, Lyft announced a partnership with GM specifically to develop self-driving tech, although this was seen more as a way to compete with Uber’s own self-driving division.
Ah yes, Uber. While a Waymo-Lyft partnership will dramatically change the country’s autonomous vehicle future, it also paints an uncertain future for the industry ride-hailing leader, and, in a way, both Waymo’s and Lyft’s biggest competitor. In recent months, Uber has been plagued by PR debacles—including a lawsuit from Waymo that alleges a former employee stole self-driving tech—friction with its pilot program cities, and a high-profile exodus from San Francisco.
Indeed, Waymo buddying up with Lyft just as its lawsuit with Uber goes to trial seems like the ultimate self-driving industry shade, but it also likely will be a win for all users of U.S. streets.
Not only does Waymo have the most self-driving experience, it has the best safety record in the industry. Lyft, although tiny in comparison to Uber when it comes to on-demand ride-hailing experience, is emerging as a trusted partner for cities when it comes to sharing trip data and working with transit agencies.
Both companies are also focused on bringing autonomous solutions to market that function more like public transit than single-passenger vehicles—an important way for self-driving cars to tackle issues of traffic, parking, and climate change instead of making them worse. Your Lyft Line of the near-future may very well be a self-driving minivan powered by Waymo.