Self-driving car services are popping up all over the country. But they are not what they seem.
The latest example is ride-hailing company Lyft’s upgraded service in Las Vegas.
On Tuesday, the company announced that users will be able to hail a new breed of self-driving cars on and around the Las Vegas Strip. This builds on similar services we have provided in Las Vegas over the past four years. But this news contains a serious caveat. Alongside these vehicles are two of his, known in the industry as safety drivers, who control the vehicles in case something goes wrong.
For much of the past decade, the tech and automotive industries have promised cars that would drive you around town. But it will be many years, even decades, before truly self-driving cars become commonplace. Big companies have made great strides, but bringing technology to the masses remains an arduous process.
Skylar Cullen, who oversaw the team investigating the potential of autonomous driving at South Korean tech giant Samsung and now runs the startup building, said: A new kind of camera for self-driving cars.
Earlier this year, three other companies introduced self-driving services in San Francisco, Miami, and Austin, Texas. All said these services do not include safety drivers. And in at least some cases, these cars are driven without drivers. However, they are only available to a small number of riders, many of whom are friends and family members of the company’s employees.
Reporters cannot use these services without a driver.
As it stands, there is only one fully public service that operates without a safety driver. Waymo, owned by Google’s parent company, offers self-driving services in suburban Phoenix with wide roads, predictable weather, and low pedestrian traffic.
Even as the new service expands to places like San Francisco, there are serious caveats. They can only be used in strictly restricted areas. They operate at speeds of less than 35 or 40 miles per hour. They shut down in bad weather. Also, companies will employ technicians who can control the car from a distance if something goes wrong.
Karl Iagnemma, CEO of Motional, which operates Lyft’s self-driving cars in Las Vegas, said it makes sense. “The technology required for autonomous driving is very complex,” he said. “The solution will be found step by step.”
Iagnemma points out that unlike other services, Lyft’s Motional vehicles in Las Vegas are open to anyone. The car is more advanced than Lyft’s in the city since 2018, and the two companies have developed a new app that can be used to open the car’s doors.
Iagnemma said the company’s latest car is “a road to self-driving systems,” which Lyft and Motional will unveil next year.