Weekly Brief: Heads get Hotter as Robo-Taxi Market Heats Up

Ford and Argo AI will launch self-driving vehicles on Lyft’s ride-hailing network this year.

The automaker and the autonomous vehicle start-up announced last week that their joint deployment with Lyft will begin in Miami, where Ford and Argo have been testing a fleet of self-driving vehicles for several years. The Ford vehicles will have a safety engineer on board but will drive themselves within a defined, geofenced area of Miami, similar to how Waymo One operates on the outskirts of Phoenix. Lyft users within the defined service areas will be able to select a Ford self-driving vehicle to hail a ride.

In 2022, Ford, Argo AI, and Lyft plan to expand the service to Austin, Texas, and from there go nationwide. That sort of scale is something that Waymo has struggled to achieve. Despite being the frontrunner in the industry and the first to commercialize, it still hasn’t managed to spread its wings beyond the Phoenix suburbs. Ford, Argo, and Lyft are bullish that they can go bigger, faster, together. “This collaboration marks the first time all the pieces of the autonomous vehicle puzzle have come together this way,” said Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green. “Each company brings the scale, knowledge and capability in their area of expertise that is necessary to make autonomous ride-hailing a business reality.”

Despite the bold proclamations, their current plans call to deploy only about 1,000 robo-taxis over the coming five years. That’s like a rounding error when you consider the fact that almost 1.5 million people currently serve as drivers on the Lyft app. Nonetheless, last week’s announcement shows that the field is finally starting to heat up for commercial robo-taxi services. In China, there’s now Alibaba’s AutoX and Baidu’s Apollo Go. In the US there’s Waymo One and soon to be Ford-Argo-Lyft. General Motors’ Cruise is expected to launch its commercial service when it releases the all-new Cruise Origin shuttle in 2023.

The mood among these competitors has been cordial and mutually encouraging so far. It’s not hard to imagine a day, however, when the robo-taxi industry sheds its friendly, everyone-can-play spirit for a more cutthroat reality. GM made that clear last week when it sued Ford for trademark infringement on its hands-free driving technology. The lawsuit specifically centers on the word “cruise”. Not only does GM own a self-driving start-up named Cruise, it also has an advanced driver assistance system named Super Cruise. Both are trademark protected. That didn’t stop Ford from rebranding its hands-free driving technology, previously Co-Pilot360, as BlueCruise. GM says that rebranding exercise infringes on its trademark. Ford says GM is being “meritless and frivolous” given that everyone and his or her mother knows the word “cruise” when it comes to hands-free driving on the highway.

Ever heard of cruise control? Can GM really claim ownership of that? Are the gloves about to come off across the industry? We’ll soon find out.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *