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7 things to know about Lyft’s self-driving cars

Is San Francisco ready for even more driver-less vehicles on the road?

Photo by Roman Tiraspolsky

Last week,, an autonomous car startup in Mountain View, announced via Medium that it would partner with San Francisco-based ridesharing company Lyft to offer rides in self-driving cars to customers.

While San Franciscans have had to grow used to the presence of autonomous vehicles on roads over the past year, this will be the first opportunity for average folk have to hitch a ride in a robo-coaches.

Details are still scant, but here’s the lowdown on how it’s going to work:

  1. It’s an opt-in program. Lyft users will have the option of agreeing to possibly end up with a self-driving car when they call for a ride, or to just stick to the fleet of regular human drivers.
  2. A human being will still be at the wheel. As with other open road tests conducted by experimental robot car companies, the vehicle may operate itself, but a human driver will always be ready to take control of the car if needed.
  3. Whether you end up hailing a self-driving car depends on where you’re going. A Lyft director explained to the Verge that, at first, the vehicles will operate only on particular routes. If your destination happens to fall along one of the pre-selected yellow brick roads, you might end up in one of the experimental vehicles.
  4. It’s not yet clear when this will all actually happen. Lyft says Bay Area users will be able to opt into the autonomous car option “soon,” but hasn’t announced a precise date yet.
  5. These aren’t actually Lyft branded cars. While competitor Uber has busied itself developing self-driving cars of its own—which were kicked out of and then hauled right back into California earlier this year—Lyft instead works out partnerships with several existing car startups.
  6. You can watch some of the same cars in action yourself. Earlier this year, uploaded an impressive video showing off how its vehicles handled themselves (literally) during a rainy night on the peninsula.

This is still the only footage the company has released to the public. And, of course, they’re only showing the technology performing at its best. Still, we can see that it does at least work.

7. Self-driving car tech improved in 2016, but numbers aren’t in for this year. Companies testing autonomous cars on California roads must report all “disengagements”—i.e., those times when human drivers must take the wheel—to the DMV. But these reports come out publicly only once per year.

The 2016 figures showed fewer and generally less worrisome sounding disengagements compared to 2015 data. While one would hope that 2017 is an even better year as more and more bugs are ironed out of the technology, figures to confirm or debunk that optimistic anticipation won’t be here until early next year.

And there are no disengagement figures for cars yet at all. But if people are curious how well the cars perform these days, they’ll soon get their own chance to find out.