General Motors and Lyft will test a self-driving taxi service in an undisclosed city within a year, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.
It’s not clear what steps the mystery city will take to align its rules of the road with the robotaxi service. Customers who get cold feet at the sight of an empty space where the driver normally sits will be able to opt out of the robotaxi service and get a human-driven Lyft car instead.
It’s one of the first fruits in a dealmaking frenzy that’s roiling the auto industry. GM recently poured US $500 million into Lyft, a ride-hailing app that’s like Uber but smaller; GM is also plunking down $1 billion to acquire Cruise Automation, whose technology it plans to use in the robotaxis. And, to complete the high-tech showcase, the company also plans to provide Lyft with its new all-electric Chevy Bolt, which has more battery power and thus more battery range than its existing offering, the Chevy Volt.
In other recent dealmaking news, Google—after failing to sign a deal with Ford—is reportedly teaming up with Fiat Chrysler. Uber is building up its own self-driving laboratory, a process it began by strip-mining the engineering faculty at Carnegie Mellon University.
One of the vexing points in any marriage between a car company and a tech company is who gets to control the data. No car company wants to be treated as a hewer of wood and drawer of water that gets a pittance while some lordly tech partner grabs all the profits. According to a report this week in TheStreet, differences on this question were what probably scotched the proposed Google-Ford alliance. Ford is instead buying its way into the relevant computer expertise by investing $182 million in Pivotal Software, a cloud-computing company.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.