Artificial Intelligence

Self-driving lifts now a reality in Boston

21st December 2017
Alice Matthews


In June, lift-hailing company Lyft and the Boston-based autonomous driving startup NuTonomy announced a 'strategic R&D partnership' to improve the AV customer experience for our driverless future.

Author: Justin Tejada, The Connected Car

"At Lyft, we imagine a world where car ownership is optional and cities are designed for people instead of cars," Lyft Co-founder and CEO Logan Green said at the time. "Partnering with NuTonomy is an important step towards making this vision a reality. The NuTonomy team is one of the first movers in autonomous vehicle development, and we look forward to working with them to bring their autonomous vehicles to the Lyft network."

Half a year later, we're seeing this high-profile partnership with more clarity. Lyft customers in Boston's Seaport neighborhood now have the opportunity to ride in an autonomous, NuTonomy-branded vehicle.

After ordering a ride through the Lyft app in the standard way, select passengers will be matched with with a 'self-driving NuTonomy ride' instead of a human driver like Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz.

"Our partnership with Lyft has two goals. First, we want to let members of the public experience driverless vehicles firsthand, so they can better understand the impact this new technology will have on their lives," NuTonomy wrote in a blog post. "Second, based on feedback from pilot participants, NuTonomy's engineers will adapt and improve our system, so that we can deliver an autonomous transportation experience that is extremely safe, efficient, and comfortable."

The second goal is pretty standard.

All product designers use customer feedback to improve future products. But by acknowledging the reservations many people have when it comes to autonomous vehicles, Lyft and NuTonomy are taking an honest approach that could pay big dividends. If users feel as though they're being gently guided into the autonomous future by a caring friend, they are more likely to be receptive to that change than they would be if they were forced into a decision by a heavy-handed bureaucrat.

NuTonomy was founded in 2013 by members of MIT's Mechanical Engineering department, who specialised in developing driverless car technology.

The company began as a consultancy for other AV developers, but soon pivoted to creating its own self-driving software. NuTonomy has an office in Singapore where it operates an autonomous vehicle pilot project.

NuTonomy also has its own AV passenger pilot programme in Boston that started earlier this month independent of Lyft.

In October, Delphi Automotives (now known as Aptiv) bought the startup for $450m.

For Lyft, NuTonomy represents just one of its autonomous vehicle partners. Since the future of ride-hailing is widely believed to involve autonomous vehicles, Lyft has been making numerous efforts to compete in the autonomy space with its primary rival Uber. Lyft has partnered with to offer AV rides in San Francisco, and also has driverless deals in place with Ford and Waymo.

Image credit: The Connected Car

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