Lyft has another year of building out its autonomous driving program under its belt, and the ride-hailing company has been expanding its testing steadily throughout 2019. The company says that it’s now driving four times more miles on a quarterly basis than it was just six months ago, and has roughly 400 people worldwide dedicated to autonomous vehicle technology development.
Going into next year, it’s also expanding the program by adding a new type of self-driving test car to its fleet: Chrysler’s Pacifica hybrid minivan, which is also the platform of choice for Waymo’s current generation of self-driving car. The Pacifica makes a lot of sense as a ridesharing vehicle, since it’s a perfect passenger car with easy access via the big sliding door and plenty of creature comforts inside. Indeed, Lyft says that it was chosen specifically because of its “size and functionality” and what those offer to the Lyft AV team when it comes to “experiment[ing] with the self-driving rideshare experience. Lyft says it’s currently working on building these test vehicles out in order to get them on the road.
Lyft’s choice of vehicle is likely informed by its existing experience with the Pacificas, which it encountered when it partnered with Waymo starting back in May, with that company’s autonomous vehicle pilot program in Phoenix, Arizona. That ongoing partnership, in which Waymo rides are offered on Lyft’s ride-hailing network, is providing Lyft with plenty of information about how riders experience self-driving ride-hailing, Lyft says. In addition to Waymo, Lyft is also currently partnering with Aptiv on providing self-driving services commercially to the public through that company’s Vegas AV deployment.
In addition to adding Pacificas to its fleet alongside the current Ford Fusion test vehicles it has in operation, Lyft is opening a second facility in addition to its Level 5 Engineering Center, the current central hub of its global AV development program. Like the Level 5 Engineering Center, its new dedicated testing facility will be located in Palo Alto, and having the two close together will help “increase the number of tests we run,” according to Lyft. The new test site is designed to host intersections, traffic lights, roadway merges, pedestrian pathways and other features of public roads, all reconfigurable to simulate a wide range of real-world driving scenarios. Already, Lyft uses the GoMentum Station third-party testing facility located in Concord, California for AV testing, and this new dedicated site will complement, rather than replace, its work at GoMentum.
Meanwhile, Lyft is also continually expanding availability of its employee self-driving service access. In 2019, it increased the availability of self-driving routes for its employees three-fold, the company says, and it plans to continue to grow the areas covered “rapidly.”