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Lyft will develop its own autonomous driving tech

Lazaro Gamio / Axios

Doubling down on its investment in self-driving cars, ride-hailing company Lyft is set to open a new office in Silicon Valley that will focus on autonomous driving tech. Named after the highest level of autonomous driving — Level 5 — the facility will house several hundred employees by the end of 2017.

In-house tech: Until now, Lyft's self-driving car efforts have been limited to working with other technology makers by providing them access to its ride-hailing network and data via its Open Platform. But now the company plans to develop its own technologies to tackle mapping, perception, localization, path planning, and motion control. Already, 10% of the company's engineers are working on autonomous driving tech, says Lyft.

Why it matters: Lyft's new move is not only a significant increase in its investment in self-driving cars, but it's also turning into a more direct competitor to its partners like Waymo and GM, which are developing their own versions of autonomous driving tech.

Open approach: Lyft says it plans to make some of its technology and resources available to its platform partners. It also plans to contribute to the broader industry by publicly releasing some data, publishing research papers, and opening access to its network for research, according to Luc Vincent, Lyft's head of autonomous driving, though it's not made concrete plans yet.

Future drivers: Lyft says that it will always employ drivers in some capacity even when self-driving cars become a reality—either to drive in situations in which autonomous systems can't, or to fulfill other functions. This echoes the predictions of other tech leaders, who have said that while self-driving cars will eliminate driving jobs, they will give rise to a slew of new jobs.

Planned testing: Lyft says it's still on track to roll out a pilot program in partnership with self-driving car startup nuTonomy later this year in Boston. It's also still planning to debut a program with GM, though it's unclear when this will happen. Company execs also declined to comment on Lyft's plans to get a self-driving car testing permit for its home state of California.

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