Waymo, an autonomous car technology project under Google’s parent company Alphabet, confirmed to the New York Times that it has entered into a deal with Uber rival Lyft. The financials behind the deal was not disclosed. A day after the deal was confirmed, a key Uber engineer working on self-driving was barred by a US court from working on Uber’s own project. The engineer, Anthony Levandowski, had previously worked at Waymo, which accused him of stealing large amounts of research before moving to Uber. Waymo is an important project for Google, and is doing test runs of self-driving vehicles in the US. Lyft, which is the second-largest ride-sharing app in the US after Uber (by a large margin, as per the NYT report), may integrate its network of riders with Waymo’s vehicles in the future.
Setback for Uber
The agreement was in the works since last summer, sources told the New York Times. Unlike Uber, Lyft isn’t working on its own self-driving car technology, so a partnership with Waymo, which has almost a decade of research under its belt, makes sense. The court ruling barring Levandowski from working on Uber’s program gives Waymo’s efforts another fillip. Uber is currently testing autonomous vehicles (with snags) in some cities. As Uber competes with what may very well be a close integration of Waymo and Lyft, it faces the prospect of competing with technology developed with much more research, in addition to facing a significant setback with Levandowski now ordered to stay away from the project.
As more jurisdictions around the world begin to follow Arizona’s example of lax rules for self-driving cars, and more such manufacturer-developer-ridesharer agreements fall in place, autonomous vehicles may soon reach mass-market penetration. The technology is already good enough for mainstream adoption in developed markets; the only barriers are regulatory and adoption-based, with some due-diligence in testing pending.
Other Waymo deals
Waymo has signed a deal with General Motors (which is also a major investor in the project) to help create a network of on-demand self-driving cars, and with car manufacturer Fiat. It is also reportedly in talks with Honda. These car- manufacturer deals give Lyft both partners for developing the technology and refining it, as well as actual real life cars to implement that technology on.
On the other hand, Lyft is a member of a global coalition of Uber rivals that share technology and in some cases, work to be interoperable on each other’s networks. Ola is the Indian partner in that coalition. However, Didi Chuxing, the Chinese partner, acquired Uber’s China operations in August 2016, nullifying the coalition. Recently, Lyft acquired FinitePaths, a Pune startup that developed an online location-based Q&A app — the company announced that they’d be shutting down the ‘Trail Answers’ app and absorbing key executives from the startup.