Weekly Brief: Lyft self-driving division closes gap with Uber

Lyft wakes up to the fact that it needs its own self-driving tech to compete in the future of ridesharing. Andrew Tolve reports.

Six months of scandals, dustups and resignations at Uber have left Lyft riding an unprecedented wave of momentum. Total passengers and bookings have more than doubled while Uber's market share is down as of this May from 84 to 77%. To further close the gap, Lyft announced plans last week to create a new division devoted to autonomous vehicles. The division will be called “Level 5” and will be housed in a sprawling, 50,000 square foot facility in Palo Alto, California, complete with labs and open testing tracks.

This is not Lyft's first move on the self-driving car front. The company has already penned partnerships with a host of carmakers and tech companies active in autonomy, including Waymo, General Motors, Jaguar Land Rover and Nutonomy. These partnerships allow companies pioneering their own autonomous tech to plug in to Lyft's network, refine and test their product and ultimately bring it to market within the context of a fully-fledged ridesharing network. Level 5 will maintain these partnerships but will also see Lyft start to create its own software and hardware for autonomous vehicles and then partner with carmakers to build those vehicles, all of which will end up on the Lyft network. Lyft expects to employ hundreds of engineers at Level 5 by the end of 2018.

In other news, the US Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection voted to advance a bill on autonomous vehicles to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which is expected to pass the bill onto the full House of Representatives for a vote in September. The bill would make the federal government the sole regulatory body for autonomous vehicles and would eliminate individual state's rights to regulate autonomous software and hardware systems on their roads. It also would encourage more development in the self-driving car area by allowing manufacturers to have more cars on the road that don't meet existing NHTSA standards (for a steering wheel, brakes, a physical driver etc); the limit would rise to 100,000 vehicles per manufacturer per year. Critics warn that the bill lacks sufficient safety requirements, such as requiring pre-market approval of self-driving technology and mandating that all data around crashes be made public.

Microsoft joined the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of more than 50 partners working in concert with Baidu to advance its open self-driving car platform Apollo. Apollo offers automakers all the major features and functions of an autonomous vehicle, from cloud services to an open software stack to reference hardware and vehicle platforms. Microsoft aims to provide global scale for Apollo outside of China with the Microsoft Azure cloud. Other Apollo partners include TomTom, Bosch, Continental, and Southeast Asia’s leading ride-hailing platform Grab.

The state of Washington’s Driving Under the Influence of Electronics (E-DUI) Act is now law. Drivers can no longer hold their phones while driving and use of hands-free devices will be restricted to a single touch. Fatalities from distracted driving are up nationwide and increased 32% from 2014 to 2015 in Washington alone; 71% of distracted drivers engage in cell phone use behind the wheel. The law says that drivers can’t use mobile devices while they are driving, stopped in traffic or at a stop light. This includes tablets, laptops, games or any handheld electronic devices.

General Motorslaunched GM Dev Client, an app that gives developers who have created in-vehicle applications the ability to test them in a real GM vehicle. In January 2017, GM released the NGI SDK, which mimics real vehicle data and enables developers outside of GM to build apps without making frequent trips to Detroit to conduct testing on infotainment modules. With GM Dev Client, those apps now can be tested on a real GM vehicle anywhere in the US so long as they are approved by GM first.

Travelers launched a smartphone app for its usage based insurance platform IntelliDrive. The app is powered by TrueMotion and means that customers no longer have to stick a physical device into their OBDII ports. Instead, the new will harness the smartphone’s accelerometer, gyroscope and GPS to track driving habits over a 90-day period. Customers who drive safely can save up to 20% on renewal premiums. The IntelliDrive app is available in Minnesota and Nevada with more states anticipated to be added later this year.

Finally, Amica Mutual Insurance announced that it too was jumping on the UBI bandwagon thanks to a new partnership with Intelligent Mechatronic Systems(IMS). Amica says it will launch an on-demand telematics program this summer in Oregon powered by IMS’s DriveSync connected car platform. More details on the partnership and the program will be revealed at the time of the Oregon launch.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry sources.

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