Lyft riders may get early taste of self-driving tech from Google's Waymo

Waymo has struck a deal to test its self-driving car technology with ride-sharing service Lyft

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Credit: Michael Kan

Cars driving for ride-hailing service Lyft may soon sport lidar sensors alongside the pink logo and Amp dash display.

The company is teaming up with Alphabet's Waymo subsidiary, the autonomous vehicle business spun out of Google. 

Details on the deal, reported by the New York Times and later confirmed by the two companies, are vague.

Under the deal, the companies will work together on pilot projects and product development efforts to make autonomous vehicles mainstream, the newspaper said, citing two anonymous sources.

But Lyft has made no secret of its interest in self-driving vehicle technology.

Last March General Motors invested $500 million in the company and then in May said they would work together to test self-driving electric Chevrolet Bolts on the roads.

By September, Lyft co-founder and President John Zimmer was telling reporters that, within five years, most of the company's rides will be self-driving.

There's a big difference between the kind of self-driving vehicles GM is developing now, which are semi-autonomous and still have a steering wheel for a driver to take over in an emergency, and the ones Waymo is testing, which don't.

Waymo's autonomous driving technology leaves all seats free for passengers, while Lyft drivers in semi-autonomous vehicles like those of GM might find a new role as greeters, or for helping passengers with luggage.

By allying with Lyft, Alphabet is backing two of the biggest players in the ride-hailing industry. The other one is Uber, in which Alphabet's investment arm, Google Ventures, owns a significant stake -- and with which Waymo is embroiled in a legal battle over allegations of intellectual property theft. The Lyft deal may be as much about gaining leverage in that battle as it is about testing Waymo's vehicles in more places, something it can do perfectly well by itself.

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