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Lyft partners with NuTonomy to develop and test driverless fleet in Boston

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Renault Zoe, test car for the Lyft-NuTonomy driverless ride-hailing program.
(NuTonomy)

As ride-hailing leader Uber struggles to develop robot car technology on its own, arch-foe Lyft is busy teaming up with others.

On Tuesday, Lyft said it will work with driverless software company NuTonomy to develop fleets of driverless vehicles. The two will focus not just on the robot sensor system but on routing, booking, and on how the system “interacts and communicates with the rider.”

On an experimental basis, real ride hailing passengers in Boston will be picked up by driverless cars, although a human will be sitting behind the wheel to take over if the robot has problems.

The plan is to build out driverless fleets for on-demand transportation when the technology and regulations are ready. Market analysts expect that to happen within five to 10 years.

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It’s the latest big deal for Lyft. Last month, the San Francisco company announced a partnership with Waymo, the driverless car project of Google parent Alphabet. Waymo develops what’s called a “full stack” of driverless technology, including software and hardware, and is considered an industry leader.

Uber, meantime, is battling in federal court with Waymo, which has accused Uber of stealing trade secrets for its self-driving car project. Uber last week fired Anthony Levandowski, whom it hired from Waymo last year to run its self-driving car project. Levandowski allegedly stole 14,000 documents from Waymo, including trade secrets. Uber has denied it made use of that information.

Mike Ramsey, an automotive analyst at market research firm Gartner Inc., said the Lyft-NuTonomy linkup contrasts with Uber’s go-it-alone approach.

“Lyft is saying we are agnostic to the [driverless] provider. Uber thinks it has to own this technology,” he said. “I’ve never understood why.”

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The market for driverless cars is generally thought to be enormous: prognostications put revenues at tens of billions to hundreds of billions a year over the next decade. It’s not at all clear yet which companies will benefit most.

“We’re seeing the formation of partnerships between automotive companies, tech companies and ride hailing companies,” said Karl Iagnemmo, NuTonomy’s chief executive. “These alliances are going to determine who wins in the market.”

Lyft appears to be focusing on its core competencies in ride-hailing. Along with the NuTonomy deal, Lyft announced an “open platform” program where driverless software and hardware companies can experiment on Lyft vehicles.

“At Lyft, we imagine a world where car ownership is optional and cities are designed for people instead of cars,” Chief Executive Logan Green said in a prepared statement

Founded by professors at MIT, the Boston company has been fairly low-key in the U.S., though it’s running an ambitious test of driverless taxis in Singapore’s One North business district.

The company describes its specialties as “autonomous vehicle navigation in urban environments, smartphone- based ride hailing, fleet routing and management, and controlling a vehicle remotely through teleoperation.”

General Motors has invested $500 million in Lyft, but the NuTonomy project will use the electric Renault Zoe.

russ.mitchell@latimes.com

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Twitter: @russ1mitchell


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