People in an as-yet-unnamed US city can expect to see self-driving electric taxis trolling their streets sometime in the next 12 months.
At least, that’s the goal for higher-ups at General Motors and Lyft, according to a recent Wall Street Journal report.
Specifically, the auto giant and ride-hailing company are preparing to road test a fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric cars they’ve designed to work as autonomous taxis.
If that sounds farfetched, consider two pieces of recent news. First, GM invested $500 million in Lyft early this year. Second, word on the street is the carmaker is about to buy self-driving tech firm Cruise Automation Inc. for more than $1 billion.
Why It’s Worth the Money
What’s so great about ridesharing networks and autonomous technologies that they’ve got GM spending more than $1.5 billion to get in on the action?
For starters, a number of the company’s competitors already have thrown their hats into the ring. Ford and Tesla are two noteworthy examples. (And Ford’s partner is a big one: Google.) Undoubtedly GM doesn’t want to be left in the dust.
Also playing a role: many experts believe self-driving vehicles will transform the auto industry in the coming years. In fact, some think they’ll reshape the ownership model traditionally associated with personal transport.
Given that, it’s easy enough to understand why a company like GM would pay large sums of money to enter the fray.
How It Will Work
How will the GM and Lyft program actually work once their autonomous taxis are on the road?
Neither company has fully divulged its plans, so details are sparse. Officially, all that’s been said (in a recent press release) is the pair are working to “create an integrated network of on-demand autonomous vehicles in the US.”
“We see the future of personal mobility as connected, seamless, and autonomous,” said GM President Dan Ammann. “With GM and Lyft working together, we believe we can successfully implement this vision more rapidly.”
Beyond that, little is known outside of the Wall Street Journal report. And even then, all that’s clear is customers who opt into the program will be able to choose between regular taxis and self-driving ones.
Also, Lyft supposedly has developed a prototype smartphone app that will allow users to contact a GM OnStar assistant if they have questions or if they run into any problems or issues.
The app also should let people control various aspects of a trip. A few examples: riders could use it to start their cars before they arrive, unlock doors as they approach, tell their vehicle to start driving, or finish their treks.
Before these plans can move from idea to reality, both GM and Lyft have to overcome certain hurdles. One of them is the varying regulations that address the use of self-driving vehicles in each state.
California is a good example. Late last year, the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles released draft regulations about the deployment of autonomous vehicles.
If finalized, self-driving cars sold and used in California still would need to include steering wheels and pedals. Also, only licensed drivers with an “autonomous vehicle operator certificate” would be able to operate them.
Lyft, for one, seems to be well aware of safety concerns that prompted those draft regulations. “We will want to vet the autonomous tech … and slowly introduce this into markets,” Taggart Matthiesen, the company’s product director, said recently. That will “ensure that cities would have full understanding of what we are trying to do here.”
According to The Wall Street Journal, actual human drivers will sit in the front seats of the first Chevy Bolts that hit the streets as part of this project. The end goal, though, is for the cars to be driverless.
What About Car Insurance?
Another issue that GM, Lyft, and others have to address before they get the green light to provide self-driving taxis to the masses: insurance.
For instance, will Lyft or GM buy and provide coverage to people who hail rides from their Chevy Bolts, or will customers have to protect themselves?
While those and other details are worked out, read our article about car insurance for rideshare drivers if you currently drive for Uber or Lyft or even if you think you’ll do so down the road.