The ride-hailing company Lyft is now sending self-driving cars to pick up passengers in a Boston neighborhood.
The cars will have backup human drivers at the wheel and will be limited to short routes within the city’s Seaport District, a burgeoning tech startup hub.
Lyft and its Boston-based partner nuTonomy, which builds self-driving software, announced Wednesday that the pilot project has begun.
The cars will initially be a small number of Renault Zoe EVs, which Nutonomy began road-testing in Boston starting last November.
Nutonomy engineers are already working on integrating Lyft software into ‘a couple of’ vehicles, to be deployed sometime ‘in the coming months,’ for actual customer pickups, though no more specific timeline was given.
Boston city officials approved the pilot in October and say they hope to gain insight into how people interact with shared autonomous vehicles that could eventually complement the city’s public transit system.
Lyft hasn’t disclosed how many autonomous cars it will be running in the neighborhood per day.
NuTonomy was bought earlier this year by auto supplier Delphi Automotive.
It’s also testing autonomous taxis in Singapore.
Last month Lyft secured a permit to test autonomous vehicles in California, taking it one step further in the race with several other companies to bring self-driving cars to the masses.
Lyft’s permit, reflected on the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) website, comes two months after it announced plans to offer a self-driving car as a ride option in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Lyft already has partnerships in place with autonomous car companies to advance its self-driving strategy.
The firm struck a research collaboration earlier this year with Alphabet unit Waymo.
It has also secured deals with Ford Motor Co and startup Nutonomy to incorporate self-driving cars in its fleet.
Earlier this year, Lyft joined forces with Ford to deploy self-driving vehicles in ‘large numbers’ by 2021.
Ford and Lyft teams will begin working together to design software to allow Ford vehicles to communicate with Lyft’s smartphone apps.
Ford will initially put human-driven vehicles on Lyft’s network, and it is unclear when the first self-driving cars will hit roads.
Ford self-driving test vehicles will be connected to Lyft’s network, but at first, customers will not be able to use them, according to Sherif Marakby, Ford’s vice president for autonomous vehicles and electrification.
‘We’re not building prototypes for the sake of building prototypes,’ Mr Marakby said, adding Ford intends to ultimately put thousands of self-driving vehicles in use.
Ford’s new Chief Executive Jim Hackett is scheduled to meet with investors next weel to outline the automaker’s strategy for boosting profitability.
Mr Hackett’s plans to compete for revenue from mobility services, which include car sharing and ride-hailing, will be one area of focus for investors.
The Lyft partnership fills in a piece of the puzzle.
Ford is also testing delivery services using self-driving vehicles and a van shuttle service.
The self-driving vehicles Ford will deploy through Lyft will use software developed by Argo AI, a company in which Ford is investing $1 billion (£746 million) over the next five years.
Lyft’s chief rival Uber secured the California permit to test self-driving cars in March. Apple Inc, Samsung Electronics, Tesla Inc and a host of automakers also have the permit.