Lyft and Uber testing grounds for autonomous vehicles

Lyft Express DriveAdvanced mobility continues to look tangible and coming sooner to market than it appeared a couple years ago. Google’s unveiling of its small fleet of self-driving cars for road tests in the Spring of 2014 triggered a flurry of debate about the launch of road-worthy automated cars by 2035. That timeline may be shortening to 10 years or less, at least for automated driving technologies coming to market.

Ridesharing giant Uber’s investment in the Carnegie Mellon autonomous vehicle research center and General Motors’ half billion investment in Lyft with raised the ante. In the past week, more fascinating news was revealed………

Uber may have asked a few automakers for details on placing a large order for self-driving cars, an industry source told Reuters. Uber may have placed an order for at least 100,000 Mercedes S-class cars, but this isn’t being confirmed by Daimler or Uber. The executive sedan doesn’t year have fully automated features, nor do any other cars available on the market beyond road tests.

Uber needs to cut its largest cost – paying drivers – so self-driving cars are a logical step for the on-demand transportation company. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and suppliers Bosch and Continental are working hard on advancing their technologies, as are several other OEMs and suppliers outside Germany.

Analysts at Exane BNP Paribas see a $25 billion market for automated driving technology by 2020. As for fully autonomous vehicles coming to roads, the brokerage firm sees that happening by 2025 or 2030, in part due to regulatory hurdles.

General Motors is following up its January investment of $500 million in the second largest ridesharing company, Lyft, with a symbolic step forward. GM and Lyft this month will launch a short-term rental program for Lyft drivers in Chicago with a fleet of 125 Chevrolet Equinoxes.

Similar to Uber offering car loans for drivers who don’t yet have their own car, Lyft drivers will be able to rental GM vehicles to do their work. The program, called Express Drive, will rent vehicles to Lyft drivers for one to eight weeks, including free maintenance and insurance. The companies said it will soon roll out to Boston, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore prior to a nationwide rollout.

Drivers will have an incentive for delivering riders more miles. Drivers who complete fewer than 40 rides a week will pay $99 a week and 20 cents a mile. For those driving between 40 and 64 rides, the mileage fee will be waived. Drivers who make 65 or more rides will have free access to the Equinox.

GM chose the Chevrolet crossover because it’s compact and it offers a comfortable interior and versatile storage, said Julia Steyn, GM’s vice president of urban mobility programs. Steyn also said Express Drive will build the infrastructure for an eventual fleet of on-demand autonomous vehicles, the long-term goal of the partnership.

Renting the vehicles and tracking driver contracts will be managed by Maven, the mobility subsidiary that GM created in January. GM is covering maintenance costs and is sharing the insurance cost with Lyft and Warranty work will be done at GM dealerships, Steyn said.

On-demand car service Uber announced this morning a new feature designed to make it easier for its customers to pay for rides for their friends and family: Family Profiles. The option was one of Uber’s most frequently requested features, the company notes, and will initially go live in a handful of markets, including Atlanta, Dallas and Phoenix, before rolling out elsewhere.

Though dubbed “Family Profiles,” the option to pay for others’ rides doesn’t only extend to those in your immediate family – you can choose to add anyone to this group in the app, including friends, co-workers, or anyone else. However, it makes the most sense for those who want to bill trips taken by others all to the same payment card – that means those who you add will need to be part of a fairly trusted group of people.

For example, parents could use the Family Profile setting with their kids in college – allowing them peace of mind that their child would always have a free ride home, when needed. You could also use it to help others you care about who may need the financial assistance.

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