What started as a temporary pilot project to test a Robotaxi service in Las Vegas has become a multi-year partnership between the self-driving software company Aptiv and Lyft and a new milestone indicating that the operation is underway.
The companies announced on Tuesday that they had offered 100,000 paid trips with Aptiv's self-driving vehicles through the Lyft app.
"As far as we know, this is the largest commercial pilot open to the public," said Karl Iagnemma, President of Aptiv Autonomous Mobility, in a recent interview. "For me, this partnership is a great example of the next generation ecosystem at work."
The milestone has some important reservations. The self-propelled vehicles from Aptiv, which originally started with the BMW 5 Series, have a driver behind the wheel who takes control when necessary. The human driver operates the vehicle manually in parking lots and in the hotel lobby.
According to Iagnemma and Jody Kelman, who lead the self-driving platform team at Lyft, the program has proven invaluable for companies, even if they have human protection drivers behind the wheel.
"We have something here," said Kelman. "This is really a blueprint for what future mobility partnerships can look like."
Companies that try to commercially provide on-demand hail services with self-driving vehicles in this so-called “race” must master more than the technical side. Fleet management, real-time routing, and designing a responsive user interface are just a few of the key components required to operate a profitable Robotaxi service.
The program taught Aptiv how to “get a fleet of autonomous vehicles on the road and use it to capacity,” said Iagnemma, adding later that this project positioned Lyft and Aptiv as the main winners in this area. The companies also learned to work with various regulators, in this case the city of Las Vegas, Clark County and the regional traffic authority.
Lyft and Aptiv started the pilot in January 2018 as a week-long experiment and then announced plans to extend the program. The program exceeded 5,000 self-drive trips in August and jumped on By December 2018, more than 25,000 autonomous trips had been paid, while the average passenger rating of 4.95 out of five stars was maintained, Aptiv said at the time.
By May 2019, companies reported that they had made more than 50,000 paid trips in their own vehicles in Las Vegas.
Aptiv's investment in Las Vegas increased as the number of drivers increased. The company opened a 130,000-square-meter technical center in the city in December 2018, which houses its fleet of autonomous vehicles and an engineering team dedicated to the research and development of software and hardware systems, as well as validation and mapping.