Autonomous start-up Argo AI, automaker Ford Motor Co. and ride-sharing company Lyft Inc. said on Wednesday they have teamed up to offer robotaxi trips to Lyft customers in Miami and Austin.
The service is slated to launch in Miami later this year and in Austin next year with a safety driver inside Ford Escape hybrid vehicles. Over the next five years, companies want to deploy at least 1,000 axis robots in multiple cities.
The first truly autonomous cars are expected to launch in 2023, said Jody Kelman, Lyft’s autonomous team leader.
This partnership marks the first large-scale American collaboration between an automaker, an autonomous vehicle developer and a ridesharing company. Companies are hoping to gain valuable insight on how to turn the robotic axis into a commercially viable business – a challenge that no company has yet answered.
As part of the deal, Argo AI, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen AG, will receive anonymized data on passenger movements and security incidents. This will allow Argo to optimize its technology and routing to avoid dangerous streets, Argo CEO Bryan Salesky said in a blog post.
In return, Lyft will receive a 2.5% stake in the company. At Argo’s most recent valuation of $ 7.5 billion, that equity tranche would be worth $ 187.5 million. Argo, which is currently testing autonomous vehicles in several U.S. cities, said in June that it plans to register publicly within the next year.
Ford will power, maintain and clean the robotaxi fleets as part of the partnership.
In traditional carpooling services, human drivers account for around 80% of the total cost per kilometer, according to research firm Frost & Sullivan, underscoring companies’ interest in a driverless future. But autonomous vehicles have to recoup their expensive development costs and still need to be managed and maintained.
“Our job is to generate the maximum amount of revenue from each of these vehicles by getting the best use possible,” said Kelman of Lyft.
Lyft sold its own autonomous driving technology unit to Toyota Motor Corp in April for $ 550 million in order to focus instead on providing services like routing, customer interface and fleet management.
Lyft is already allowing consumers to book autonomous vehicle rides in select cities in partnership with Waymo and Alphabet Inc’s Motional, the joint venture between Hyundai Motor Co and Aptiv.
(Reporting by Tina Bellon in Austin, additional reporting by Paul Lienert in Detroit, editing by Chris Reese)
Top photo: from Ford Motor Co.
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