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The Ford self-driving robotaxi, which uses technology from Argo AI. Photo: Courtesy of Argo

Ford and its self-driving technology partner, Argo AI, plan to deploy robotaxis on the Lyft ride-hailing network later this year, as autonomous vehicles inch closer to reality.

Why it matters: The AV technology race has narrowed to a half-dozen major players, including Pittsburgh-based Argo, which is backed by Ford and Volkswagen. But it has long been unclear how any of them will turn AVs into a viable commercial service.

  • Today's announcement offers one potential pathway to deploying robotaxis "at scale," Argo CEO Bryan Salesky said.

What's happening: Ford will produce the fleet of vehicles, Argo will provide the autonomous technology and Lyft will supply the riders through its ride-hailing network.

  • “This collaboration marks the first time all the pieces of the autonomous vehicle puzzle have come together this way,“ said Lyft co-founder and CEO Logan Green. “Each company brings the scale, knowledge and capability in their area of expertise that is necessary to make autonomous ride-hailing a business reality.”

Details: The autonomous ride-hailing service will launch in Miami later this year and in Austin, Texas, early in 2022.

  • Those initial services will lay the groundwork for deploying at least 1,000 autonomous vehicles across multiple markets over the next five years, the companies said in a joint press release.

The intrigue: The deal includes a unique "equity for data exchange" that will give Lyft a 2.5% stake in Argo in exchange for access to data about its network that will help validate Argo's commercialization strategy.

  • That stake is worth about $181 million, based on Argo's $7.25 billion valuation a year ago.
  • Yes, but: Argo plans to go public in the next year or so and is likely to fetch a higher valuation, which would make Lyft's stake worth even more.

Between the lines: As part of the agreement, Argo will use anonymized service and fleet data from Lyft to identify the markets where self-driving cars could have the biggest impact.

  • Argo will also learn about the safety risks within each market.
  • "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," Salesky wrote.
  • "Our partnership with Lyft will add a critical layer of knowledge about the safety, or lack thereof, of our streets."
  • That will enable Argo to measure the performance of its self-driving system on specific streets and to create what it calls a “geonet,” or a network of streets where it can operate safely.

Go deeper

Updated Oct 6, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on our autonomous future

On Wednesday, October 6, Axios transportation correspondent Joann Muller discussed how the autonomous vehicle industry is preparing for commercial deployment, expanding accessibility and impacting the critical movement of goods, featuring Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and John Deere chief technology officer Jahmy Hindman

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers explained her hopes for an AV national framework, America’s opportunity to be a leader in AV innovation, and what regulation of assisted driving technologies could eventually look like.     

  • On a lack of congressional preparedness for AV deployment: “I believe that it’s a missed opportunity right now as Congress is debating infrastructure packages as this technology is ready. I believe in order for America to lead and win this race around autonomous vehicles, which is certainly a priority for me, that we should be moving right now to provide that national framework for autonomous vehicles.”
  • On the industrial significance of AV technology: “You think about the transformation that’s going to take place. We are going to move to driverless cars, it is our future. It may be as big as when we move from horse and buggy to the first Model T Ford back when, but this is going to be transformative and America needs to be leading.”

Jahmy Hindman detailed the history of automated technology use in tractors, why automation is especially helpful for the farming industry, and the importance of monitoring the quality of automated machines’ output. 

  • On historical applications of automation in farming: “Twenty years ago we introduced satellite guidance on our machines. Today, it might surprise some people, tractors, combines and sprayers in our agricultural applications largely drive themselves through the field based upon that satellite guidance signal that they’re receiving.”
  • On how autonomy helps offset labor shortages: “Autonomy presents us the opportunity to sort of decouple labor from the machine usage from actually getting the work done within the farm and to reduce their dependency upon what is becoming an increasingly scarce resource, the labor that they need in order to perform the work that they do.”

Axios Chief Business Officer Fabricio Drumond hosted a View from the Top segment with Aurora CEO and co-founder Chris Urmson, who explained how the autonomous vehicle industry is preparing for deployment. 

  • “From day one, we’ve engaged it at the federal level and the state level to help educate about where Aurora is going, what this technology means, why it’s important, what the challenges are, so that as this becomes a commercial product and out there operating at scales, people aren’t surprised and we can be thoughtful about the U.S. approach to regulation and engagement in the industry.”

Thank you Aurora for sponsoring this event.

7 mins ago - Sports

Gonzaga University revokes NBA great John Stockton's tickets over mask stance

Former Utah Jazz player John Stockton during a 2017 press conference in Salt Lake City, Utah. Photo: Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images

Gonzaga University suspend the season tickets of notable alumni John Stockton after the NBA Hall of Famer failed to comply with the school's basketball games mask mandate, the Spokesman-Review first reported.

Driving the news: "Basically, it came down to, they were asking me to wear a mask to the games and being a public figure, someone a little bit more visible, I stuck out in the crowd a little bit," the former Utah Jazz point guard told the outlet in an interview Saturday.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.