Lyft is partnering with yet another self-driving car startup — this time with Drive.ai in the San Francisco Bay Area — to launch a pilot program that will shuttle ride-sharing customers to their destinations in vehicles controlled by artificial intelligence, not humans.
The partnership is just the latest step in Lyft’s plan to offer up its vast network of passengers and drivers to companies developing self-driving cars. Lyft already has partnerships with GM, Boston-based NuTonomy, and Waymo, the Google self-driving car project that spun out to become a business under parent company Alphabet.
Drive.ai and Lyft did not specify when this pilot program will start actively shuttling passengers in autonomous vehicles. Executives with Drive.ai and Lyft say they expect to launch “soon.”
Initially, the pilot will involve a small set of passengers who will opt in to this program, Taggart Matthiesen, senior director of product of Lyft, told The Verge. He did not provide a specific number of vehicles or participants, but noted the self-driving car will have a Drive.ai safety driver behind the wheel to take over in case the artificial intelligence controlling the car fails, and of course, to meet California regulations.
Once a ride is requested, Drive.ai’s software will evaluate whether or not the route is feasible, said Carol Reiley, co-founder and president of Drive.ai. This may be a route that has been pre-selected, Reiley said, adding that the company’s self-driving technology can handle rainy and nighttime conditions.
Drive.ai, which was founded by former graduate students working in Stanford University’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, will use the pilot to test the limits of the self-driving car technology and further develop it so the riding experience is consistent, regardless of the conditions of route, Reiley said. A consistent and safe ride is something all companies developing self-driving car technology are chasing, with varying degrees of success.
Despite the lack of logistical details, the partnership is a milestone for the lesser-known Drive.ai, which received an autonomous vehicle testing permit from the California Department of Motor Vehicles in April 2016. This partnership — the first that Drive.ai has publicly announced — gives the startup the opportunity to potentially bring its self-driving cars to the 350 cities in 40 US states where Lyft operates.
Drive.ai uses a different approach from other companies racing to deploy autonomous vehicles. Startups generally train their self-driving vehicles with deep learning technology, a sophisticated form of artificial intelligence algorithms that allow a computer — essentially the car’s brain — to learn by using a series of connected networks to identify patterns in data. Traditionally, deep learning is used to teach the car how to recognize objects, such as the ability of the car to detect a traffic light or a pedestrian. In general, the use of deep neural networks is limited to this task.