Lyft, Waymo Agree to Join Forces on Self-Driving Cars

Waymo is teaming up with Lyft on self-driving cars, while it fights the ride-sharing company’s main rival in court.

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Lyft, Waymo Agree to Join Forces on Self-Driving Cars © Lyft, Waymo Agree to Join Forces on Self-Driving Cars

As it continues its lawsuit against Uber over self-driving car tech, Waymo is partnering with the ride-sharing company's main rival on autonomous car development.

Waymo just signed a deal with Lyft that will see the two companies work together on self-driving cars, reports The New York Times. The companies declined to provide specific details about the nature of the partnership, but it could be a serious competitive threat to Uber and raises some interesting questions about Waymo and Lyft's existing partnerships with automakers.

While it is a distant second to Uber in the ride-sharing market, Lyft is the company's main competition, and has been gaining ground recently in the wake of multiple high-profile scandals at Uber. Waymo accuses Uber of benefitting from self-driving car tech stolen by one of its former employees, Anthony Levandowski, who took a position at the ride-sharing company after his startup, Otto, was bought by Uber last year.

Waymo filed a lawsuit against Uber in February, and last week the judge overseeing the case asked federal prosecutors to investigate the matter. Waymo is seeking an injunction that would shut down Uber's self-driving car program until it could be confirmed that Uber wasn't using any of its data. While some restrictions may be placed on its operations, it appears Uber's autonomous car program will be allowed to proceed, for now.

Even if it loses in the courtroom, the partnership with Lyft could allow Waymo to strike against Uber in the marketplace. Going back to its previous incarnation as the Google self-driving car project, Waymo has unsuccessfully sought commercial applications for its tech. Lyft has previously indicated an interest in self-driving cars, partnering with General Motors and the automaker's Cruise Automation subsidiary.

GM previously invested $500 million in Lyft, and the ride-sharing company was expected to make use of Cruise Automation's Chevrolet Bolt EV autonomous prototypes. Waymo also has an existing partnership, with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. FCA supplied the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans that make up a test fleet Waymo is currently deploying in Arizona.

Waymo never intended to partner with only one automaker; it has also reached out to Honda about a possible partnership. Neither Waymo nor Lyft builds its own cars, so some form of automaker partnership will have to be part of the mix for either company commercialize self-driving tech. The question is: How will Lyft's existing partnership with GM and Cruise Automation mesh with the Waymo collaboration?

Whatever final shape these partnerships take, the goal is to get self-driving cars operational in ride-sharing services. Autonomous ride sharing is viewed as particularly lucrative because it eliminates the cost of human drivers, and increases the amount of time cars can spend on the road. If self-driving cars really do go mainstream, they'll likely appear in ride-sharing services well before they make it to individual owners' driveways.

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