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Waymo & Lyft: Another match made in self-driving heaven?

Are Lyft and Waymo looking at a bright future together in autonomous driving? (Photo: Lyft)

The Google spin-off partners with rideshare service Lyft. But what does each stand to gain?

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The Google spin-off partners with rideshare service Lyft. But what does each stand to gain?

As the race to get autonomous vehicle technology into the mainstream continues, news of big players hooking up comes as less and less of a surprise. Take Intel and Mobileye or Audi and NVIDIA for example. But don’t be fooled, it’s rarely a case of true love. Rather, it is generally because one has what the other wants - or needs.

Waymo – which operates under Google’s parent company – and Uber’s closest rival, Lyft, are the latest to pair off in this rather unromantic notion of union. Both Waymo and Lyft have confirmed the deal, first reported by the New York Times.

It’s not the first time either party has forged a partnership. Lyft  formed an alliance with GM to develop autonomous taxis last year, while Google also joined forces with Fiat Chrysler to develop a self-driving minivan.

So back to the original question: what does each party stand to gain from this new partnership? On the surface, the statements are what you might expect. Speaking to the New York Times, a Lyft spokesperson said: “Waymo holds today’s best self-driving technology, and collaborating with them will accelerate our shared vision of improving lives with the world’s best transportation.” While the Waymo spokesperson said: “Lyft’s vision and commitment to improving the way cities move will help Waymo’s self-driving technology reach more people, in more places.” But what are they really saying?

Well for Lyft, it’s quite clear. Waymo has clocked over 3 million miles of autonomous driving on public roads. It offers top notch, tried and tested technology. And with no plans to develop self-driving technology itself, it’s a “way in” to the market for Lyft.

For Waymo, on the other hand, the deal is most likely all about one thing: human data. If Waymo wants its technology in front of paying customers, then it needs human data, and Lyft provides just that. Despite being a distant second to Uber in the ridehailing stakes, Lyft has plenty of data on mobility patterns that cannot be obtained from the millions of miles on Mountain View roads: Where do people go? What are they willing to pay? What are their trip durations? Do they avoid highways? Do tourists want to pass certain landmarks on the way into town? Lyft, now operating in 300 cities across the US, with plans to go global can provide these data. After all, its 700,000 drivers gave 162 million rides in 2016 alone. But could there also be a bonus for Waymo? Will Lyft use its network of drivers to gather mapping data as its rival Uber does? Only time will tell how this one pans out.

Read the full article in the New York Times or WIRED.

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