Lyft to offer rides in self-driving cars in San Francisco area

Transportation Reuters

FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016, file photo, a driver displaying Lyft and Uber stickers on his front windshield drops off a customer in downtown Los Angeles. Hailing a ride with a smartphone app in many U.S. cities could come down to a fight ... over fingerprints. Following incidents where Uber drivers were found to have criminal records, a growing number of state and local governments want ride-hailing drivers to undergo fingerprint background checks. Uber and its chief rival, Lyft, have fought those checks, contending their own method of vetting drivers is just as safe. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel, File)

A self-driving car will soon be one ride option available from Lyft in the San Francisco Bay Area, as the ride-services company ramps up its efforts to become a serious player in autonomous vehicle technology.

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Lyft said on Thursday that self-driving cars will soon be dispatched to certain passengers who request a ride through the app in the area. The cars will come from Drive.ai, a Mountain View, California, startup that builds software to turn cars into autonomous vehicles.

It is the latest in a string of partnerships between Lyft and an autonomous car company, but it is the one with the most immediate impact to Lyft passengers. There will be initially a small number of cars available, said Drive.ai Co-founder and President Carol Reiley, each with a trained driver in the front seat in case something goes wrong.

“We want to make sure the experience feels as much like an autonomous vehicle experience as possible,” Reiley said.

Passengers must choose to opt into the program and the rides are free. Reiley declined to disclose the car model being used or precisely when the self-driving Lyft rides would start. Lyft declined to comment further.

The program allows Lyft to test how its passengers react to self-driving cars and Drive.ai, a two-year-old company, to log more miles and tweak its software. Reiley said Drive.ai will use its own mapping data for the trips.

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The program is Lyft’s latest push into autonomous cars since announcing in July a new self-driving car division, including a facility in Palo Alto, California with hundreds of engineers who will work on autonomous technology and collaborate with other autonomous vehicle companies.

Lyft has previously announced partnerships with Alphabet Inc’s self-driving division, Waymo, technology company Nutonomy, and automakers General Motors Co and Jaguar Land Rover. Lyft has previously said it will launch a pilot with Nutonomy in Boston by year-end.

Although Lyft is a late entry into the field of autonomous cars, the partnership gives the company something of a victory over its chief competitor, Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL]. While Uber was first to offer rides in self-driving cars, using its own autonomous technology, with programs in Pennsylvania and Arizona, it does not yet offer them to passengers in the Bay Area.

Reporting by Heather Somerville; Editing by Cynthia Osterman