Uber rival Lyft has started autonomous taxi rides in the Seaport district of Boston.
The ride-sharing company is using self-driving vehicles provided by startup NuTonomy, which was spun out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2013.
The fleet of electric Renault Zoes include a safety driver, ready to take control in an emergency — or when the car encounters a situation it does not understand. But otherwise, the cars are capable of driving themselves.
Lyft began the pilot scheme on December 6 and will give autonomous rides to "select" Boston passengers in the Seaport area. The passengers will be matched to a NuTonomy autonomous car through the Lyft app, just as they would a regular human driver.
Like other autonomous car developers, such as Uber, Ford (also a partner of Lyft) and Google spinoff Waymo, NuTonomy wants to better understand how people react to and interact with driverless cars, to improve its autonomous technology in real-world situations.
Lyft has enjoyed a steady rise to fame in 2017, as rival Uber suffered negative press and customer boycotts from a constant string of self-inflicted disasters. Between the numerous setbacks, Uber was able to launch a similar self-drive pilot in San Francisco. It was halted soon after launch, but not before a car was spotted running a red light, and another toppled onto its roof after a collision. The trial was forced out of California due to Uber not applying for the correct license, and relocated to Arizona.
"Our partnership with Lyft has two goals," says NuTonomy. "First we want to let members of the public experience driverless vehicles firsthand, so they can better understand the impacts this new technology will have on their lives. Second, based on feedback from pilot participants, NuTonomy's engineers will adapt and improve our system, so that we can deliver an autonomous transportation experience that is extremely safe, efficient and comfortable."
The company added: "We're excited to take another stride toward the future of urban mobility...we're assembling a robust autonomous vehicle ecosystem - one that will make safe and inexpensive transportation available to individuals in cities worldwide."