By the end of the year, Lyft customers in Miami will be able to hail a robotaxi from Argo AI, an AV startup backed by Ford and Volkswagen, the companies announced Wednesday. Riders in Austin, Texas, will be able to do the same next year. It’s the latest step toward making more self-driving cars available to the public after initial predictions of widespread availability of AVs failed to materialize.
Ford has promised for years that it will launch a full-scale autonomous vehicle business by 2021, including robotaxis and driverless delivery. This was later pushed back to 2022, with the automaker citing delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic as the reason. It also stated that it would power its commercial ambitions with a purpose-built autonomous vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals, which it has yet to reveal.
The agreement with Lyft is the first indication that Ford is still attempting to deliver on its initial promises.
The agreement with Lyft is the first indication that Ford is still attempting to deliver on its initial promises. It will be the first time that Ford or Argo have invited members of the public to ride in their self-driving vehicles. According to an Argo spokesperson, the fleet size will be “modest” at first, with “less than 100 vehicles” collectively across both cities by next year. However, the company claims to be “laying the groundwork” for the deployment of 1,000 self-driving vehicles across multiple markets over the next five years.
Argo’s autonomous vehicles will be available on the Lyft platform by the end of the year in Miami, where Argo has been testing its technology for several years. If a Lyft customer is within a certain geographical area, they will be given the option of riding in an autonomous vehicle to their destination. Two safety drivers will remain in the driver and front passenger seats of those vehicles.
The announcement also indicates that, despite having sold its self-driving business to Toyota earlier this year, Lyft is still interested in maintaining a foothold in the AV industry. The ride-hailing company already works with Aptiv in Las Vegas and Waymo in Phoenix to arrange trips in self-driving cars.
However, after selling its Level 5 autonomous vehicle research division to Toyota-owned Woven Planet Holdings for $550 million last April, the company will not be involved in the technology’s development. In a bid to excise the money-losing parts of its business, the company followed rival Uber in selling off its costly autonomous vehicle division. Uber sold its autonomous vehicle project to Aurora, a startup founded by the former head of Google’s self-driving project, last year.
But Lyft isn’t just a bystander in this situation. The companies have signed a “network access agreement” in which Lyft will receive a 2.5 percent equity stake in Argo in exchange for data on self-driving trips from the ride-hailing company. Ford, Argo, and Lyft have stated that they will use the data generated in Miami and Austin to determine how to scale a full-scale robotaxi business.
Argo will use anonymized Lyft service and fleet data to overcome the challenges that other autonomous vehicle companies have faced by focusing on where they can build a sustainable business and validate deployment through localized safety data.
Argo has spent the last few years testing its fourth-generation vehicles in Miami, Austin, and Washington, DC, as well as Pittsburgh, Detroit, and California. In addition, starting in 2025, the company plans to launch an autonomous micro-transit and delivery service in Germany with VW, utilizing its fifth generation autonomous technology.