It’s strange to think of the word “nostalgia” or “traditional” in the same sentence as “Uber” or “Lyft.” It’s equally as strange to think that the half-assed small talk with drivers (“How long have you been doing this?” “Do you like driving on Friday nights?”) could be met with the answer, “not for much longer,” or perhaps the Siri siren call of “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.”
Lyft announced today they will unleash a few autonomous vehicles (AVs) from their crystalline cages onto the streets of San Francisco, per Wired, though the company did not confirm a date other than “soon.” The plan is for select customers in the area to get free rides operated by the autonomous automobile startup Drive.ai—it’s unclear how the lucky guinea pig passengers will be selected, or how environmental factors will affect when or where to deploy the fleet. But rest easy: There will still be a human in the driver’s seat, per California law.
Drive.ai will start with a dozen AVs: Lincoln MKZ and Audi A4 Sedans, and the Lyft app will collect data from customers to see whether they had heart palpitations during their first AV experience. And if you’re already not a fan of Uber in the wake of its recent lawsuits, sexual harassment and federal investigations for charges of foreign bribery, let us remind you that they started rolling out self-driving cars in San Francisco in December (where they failed to apply for the $150 California testing permit necessary to carry out the operation)—but they’re still in Pittsburgh and Tempe, Ariz., developing their own software and partnering with the company Nutonomy.
AVs, fortunately or unfortunately, are necessary for Uber or Lyft to even survive as companies. Despite increases in revenue, in 2016 Lyft lost $600 million and Uber lost $3 billion in discounts for riders and bonuses for arguably underpaid drivers. “I don’t think this is a zero-sum game,” Taggart Matthiesen, Lyft’s senior director of product, told The Mercury News. “It is so early in this industry right now.”
And they certainly couldn’t do much without Drive.ai, who announced in January 2016 it would work with General Motors to develop self-driving vehicles.
If the competition were to heat up—if ride service innovation becomes auto industry reality—let’s hope that at least our human lives on the road are given priority.