Lyft is diving further into the world of autonomous cars with the creation of a new engineering division called “Level 5.” The ride-hailing enterprise announced Friday that the “Level 5” facility in Palo Alto, CA, is focused entirely on researching and creating self-driving technology that can be used as a standardized system for its fleet.
The company is not looking to build its own self-driving vehicles but is inviting automakers and other tech designers to “plug into its network of nearly one million rides per day,” driving their autonomous vehicles with passengers on Lyft’s platform to gather data. It may even share its software in the future. It calls this its “Open Platform Initiative.” Lyft, in turn, would have access to the information gathered by those cars to improve its database and expand the vehicles on the road that use its services. In Lyft’s ideal world, it’s a win-win.
This strategy contrasts Lyft’s biggest competitor, Uber, which has opened several facilities across the country with the goal of building both the software and the physical vehicles it needs for its autonomous fleet.
Luc Vincent, Lyft’s vice president of autonomous technology, told The New York Times developing self-driving software is becoming a central mission to the ride-hailing start-up. Lyft said it plans to hire hundreds of engineers for the new initiative.
“We aren’t thinking of our self-driving division as a side project. It’s core to our business,” said Vincent. “That’s why 10 percent of our engineers are already focused on developing self-driving technology — and we’ll continue to grow that team in the months ahead.”
Lyft has already dipped a toe into the race to autonomy in its various partnerships with companies like Waymo — Alphabet’s self-driving car division — and GM, but this announcement shows its commitment to the industry. According to Lyft’s chief strategy officer, the company is looking to become a leader in the field.
“We want to bring the whole industry together with this, and we think there’s a unique opportunity in time right now for Lyft to become a leader while doing it,” said Kapoor in a press event at the company’s San Francisco headquarters on Friday.
Kapoor hopes this open network will bring autonomous cars to daily life faster than if the company was to try and consolidate all the different pieces, from software to hardware to application, by itself.
The unit’s name, “Level 5,” refers to the highest rating of autonomy based on the National Transportation Safety Board’s system. Currently, Uber has reached a Level 3 rating on some of its cars in the cities in which it is testing, including Pittsburgh. Tesla’s Autopilot technology, which operates in any environment, is rated Level 2.