Neither Ford or Lyft are strangers to the self-driving vehicles game, with everything from public alpha testing to driverless pizza delivery already on their repertoires. Now, they’re partnering up with the aim of “bringing self-driving vehicles to the masses.”
Sherif Marakby, Ford Vice President, Autonomous Vehicles and Electrification, outlined the partnership in a blog post, and highlighted Lyft’s existing network and its data-based understanding of intra-city transportation patterns as key assets going forward. As the partnership progresses, Lyft will begin Ford’s self-driving-capable Fusion in conjunction with Argo.ai’s virtual driver system.
As its name suggests, Argo.ai develops artificial intelligence designed to power the next generation of self-driving cars. The tech startup is backed by over $1 billion of Ford investment funding.
According to Marakby, while the long-term goal remains widespread use of the technology, the short term aim isn’t to be first to the market, but rather to develop a platform that fosters familiarity and confidence among the public. He points to three key areas in which the partnership will focus its efforts: ironing out the logistics of marrying self-driving technology with a dispatch service like Lyft, determining the markets in which to test driverless services, and determining the unexpected infrastructure challenges that come with maintaining a driverless fleet.
Marakby, a long-time Ford man who left to serve as Uber’s VP of Global Vehicle Platforms before returning to the Ford fold earlier this year, said the first cars the partnership deploys won’t be self-driving at all. The idea is to study how Ford’s platform works with Lyft’s at a behind-the-scenes level.
From there, actual driverless cars will be deployed. However, don’t expect a chauffeur-free ride anytime soon. They will be driving around and interacting with the system, but Ford and Lyft will keep them out of the pool that picks up passengers until a) it becomes lawful to do so and b) the companies have ironed out any passenger uneasiness generated by the experience.
In other words, this is a dry run. Ford and Lyft plan to use this partnership as a way of hitting the ground running once the technology reaches maturity, and to get a head start on the emerging driverless services industry.