Chief Uber-rival Lyft and Google-parent Alphabet Inc.’s autonomous-driving unit Waymo last night announced that they will be working together to make self-driving technology mainstream, confirming an earlier story yesterday by the New York Times’ Mike Isaac.
“Two people familiar with the agreement who spoke on the condition of anonymity” told Isaac that they would collaborate on “pilot projects and product development efforts,” he reports.
“The partnership highlights the fluid nature of relationships in the self-driving-car sector. From technology companies to automakers to firms that manufacture components, dozens of players are angling for a slice of an autonomous vehicle market that many believe will ultimately be a multibillion-dollar industry. To gain an edge and outmuscle rivals, many of these players are forming alliances — and sometimes shifting them,” Issac observes.
Indeed, “the arrangement with Lyft suggests Alphabet is unlikely to rekindle its relationship with Uber,” Bloomberg Technology’s Eric Newcomer and Mark Bergen observe. “Alphabet’s venture capital arm counts Uber as its largest investment, but tensions rose after Alphabet showed interest in developing a competing ride-hailing service.”
Waymo, in fact, is suing Uber, “alleging the ride-hailing giant is using trade secrets stolen by a former engineer to develop self-driving technology. Uber denies the claims,” they remind us.
Last week, U.S. District Judge William Alsup partially granted Waymo’s “bid for an injunction against Uber's self-driving efforts and rejected Uber's arguments that Waymo's trade secret allegations should proceed in private arbitration,” report Dan Levine and Heather Somerville for Reuters.
Alsup, who is based in San Francisco, “refer[red] the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation of possible trade secret theft,” they write, while maintaining “he took ‘no position’ on whether a criminal prosecution was warranted.”
“We can confirm that we are partnering with Waymo to safely and responsibly launch self-driving vehicle pilots,” Lyft says in an email to reporters including the Washington Post’s Elizabeth Dwoskin. “Waymo holds today’s best self-driving technology, and collaborating with them will accelerate our shared vision of improving lives with the world’s best transportation.”
In a separate emailed statement to the media, Waymo says: “We’re looking forward to working with Lyft to explore new self-driving products that will make our roads safer and transportation more accessible. Lyft’s vision and commitment to improving the way cities move will help Waymo’s self-driving technology reach more people, in more places.”
That’s it, as far as official pronouncements go, but “a person familiar with the deal said Lyft will help Waymo expand tests of its self-driving technology through an effective taxi service,” write Greg Bensinger and Jack Nicas for the Wall Street Journal. “The two companies have also discussed Lyft plugging Waymo’s driverless cars into its pool of available taxis so any user could summon them, this person said. The exact nature of how this would work is still unclear.”
“General Motors will be implicitly involved with the deal. The automaker holds a major stake in Lyft, and the two are using GM’s new electric car, the Bolt EV, as a test vehicle for driverless cars,” points out Russ Mitchell for the Los Angeles Times.
“For Lyft, the Waymo partnership helps protect it from potential irrelevance once autonomous vehicles dominate our roads. Self-driving rides are expected to be more affordable than trips with human drivers. So ride sharing companies will need to offer autonomous rides to stay competitive. Lyft hadn't been developing its own self-driving technology,” writes Matt McFarland for CNN Money.
“The new partnership may see Waymo and Lyft fold their current projects together, or continue with separate research tracks, but one thing is for sure — this announcement is not great news for Uber,” concludes Rich McCormick for The Verge.
“Uber was already forced to admit that Waymo’s self-driving tech was ahead of its own, and now the company has to fight off its two biggest rivals on two fronts, while also dealing with its own internal problems and ongoing investigations. But while neither Lyft nor Waymo has announced concrete plans for their collaborative efforts, the current ride-sharing market leader still has a chance to maintain the advantage.”
Indeed, things are looking good for Uber and CEO Travis Kalanick, who has managed to avoid widespread negative headlines for at least a week now.