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How Argo, Ford, and Lyft Will Scale Driverless Ride-Hailing in Miami, Austin and Beyond

Today, Argo AI announced a new partnership with Lyft that will accelerate our deployment of Ford driverless vehicles for ride-hailing. 

Through this industry-first collaboration, companies with the three key aspects required to launch, validate and scale an autonomous ride-hailing service in cities are directly working together: the self-driving system developed by the Argo AI team; the vehicles manufactured by one of our partners, Ford Motor Company; and the riders on Lyft’s transportation network. Together, we will first launch in Miami and Austin, with plans being finalized to scale to a fleet of approximately 1,000 self-driving vehicles operating across more markets. But that’s just the start.

Since the word ‘scale’ gets thrown around a lot when it comes to autonomy, let’s take a look at what it takes to truly scale autonomous vehicles in a ride-hailing service that delivers on the promise of the technology. While on the surface, it may appear simple enough to incorporate self-driving technology in a bunch of cars and then connect them to an existing ride-hail network, that’s far from reality. First, you need enough vehicles to meet demand. In Ford, we have a partner with over a century of experience designing and manufacturing vehicles in high volumes and at high quality. 

The next thing you need is the technology, and that is Argo’s contribution. For us, scaling a self-driving system for ride-hailing means answering two main questions: Can we produce the necessary hardware in high enough volumes and at high enough quality to meet vehicle-production standards? And can our system’s software operate in our initial launch cities, and then efficiently expand for operations in new cities and, ultimately, other countries? The answer to question #1 lies in our proven partnership with Ford, for whom we’re already designing automotive-grade self-driving systems. And, through our industry-leading, multi-city approach we demonstrate our answer to question #2 every day

Finally, there’s the need to enhance mobility for large quantities of riders, in the most complex and in-demand areas. This is where partnering with Lyft is truly the differentiator in how we can optimally serve cities and their residents, as Lyft can connect us to their expansive network of customers, who benefit from their well-established reputation for trusted service. Argo will be able to provide mobility for those riders in a way that is more affordable, reduces congestion, and makes streets safer for everyone on the road – including pedestrians and cyclists.

Safety in Numbers

That brings me to the question that is ever-present in the autonomous vehicle industry: “When will we see large-scale deployments?”

Short answer: We have a plan for that! While Argo already has a fleet of self-driving test vehicles operating across six cities in the U.S. and expanding to two cities in Germany, we use the term “deployment” to refer to a commercial service with driverless vehicles. Going from the testing phase to a commercial service, while still using safety operators behind the wheel, is a big leap. And that’s where we’ll start in our partnership with Lyft later this year in Miami and Austin. 

But to go from there to offering driverless vehicles is an even bigger step. It requires validating that the technology is achieving a level of self-driving performance deemed safer than what we see on the streets today. We are already able to demonstrate that our technology can deal with a diversity of complexity in cities—from unpredictable drivers in Miami, to chaotic roundabouts in Washington D.C., to the unique “Pittsburgh Left” in our hometown. But, how do we measure and demonstrate that our driving technology performs more safely than human drivers in our operating locations?  

This is where our partnership with Lyft will really deliver. Using anonymized service and fleet data from Lyft, we’ll not only be able to identify the markets where self-driving cars could most positively impact cities and individual community members, we’ll also understand the state of safety in those areas. Data detailing the tragic number of fatalities on roads in the U.S. is aggregated at the national, not local, level. Plus, in addition to deaths, a significantly higher number of injuries and property damage result from less severe collisions. Unfortunately, these collisions are not tracked in detail through any national, state or local publicly-available means. And it’s this type of data that really reflects the status of human driving performance in the cities where we plan to operate.

We’ve already been building a database of public local collision data from multiple sources in order to measure the performance of our technology versus human drivers on a street-by-street basis. Our partnership with Lyft will add a critical layer of knowledge about the safety, or lack thereof, of our streets. Armed with this information, we’ll be able to measure the performance of the Argo self-driving system on specific streets, and to create what we call a “geonet,” or a network of streets, where we can safely operate driverlessly.

All told, this partnership between Argo, Ford, and Lyft will enable us to overcome the challenges faced by other autonomous vehicle companies by focusing on where we can build a sustainable business that also provides a significant positive impact to its residents. I’ve long talked about how Argo works with communities to apply a street-by-street, block-by-block mentality to the challenge of developing and deploying autonomous vehicles in the most complex urban driving environments. Now, the world will be able to see how we’re putting that mindset into practice, so people can begin to experience the transformative benefits that a sophisticated self-driving operation can have on their daily lives.

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