Lyft’s Driverless Cars Are Back on California Streets

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Lyft’s driverless cars are back on the streets of California.

The ridesharing company suspended testing of its autonomous vehicles earlier this year in response to shelter-in-place orders prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

But with Covid-19 cases on the rise in California, it’s possible Lyft’s current testing session, taking place in Palo Alto, may be short lived. Still, while it continues, the company insists it’s taking the proper precautions to ensure the safety of the engineers that sit inside the robot cars as they navigate the streets, according to TechCrunch.

Working in pairs, each engineer has to wear a face shield and take regular temperature checks. A physical partition has also been placed inside its driverless cars to separate the two engineers. Surfaces inside the vehicle are regularly sanitized, too.

As its name suggests, Lyft’s Level 5 program is geared toward testing technology that will allow a vehicle to drive itself without any human input. Created by the Society of Automotive Engineers, the internationally recognized rating system is made up of six categories, with Level 0 offering no autonomy, and Level 5 full autonomy.

Lyft started testing autonomous vehicles in California in November 2018 with a view to one day offering rides to customers in driverless cars. While it currently operates 19 self-driving vehicles, the company told Digital Trends that right now “less than 10” of these are on the road. In addition, Lyft had started to offer rides to employees as part of its testing program, but while Covid-19 remains an issue, only engineers will ride inside the cars.

Lyft said in a blog post on Tuesday that while its cars were off the road earlier this year, its team had been able to continue its work developing the technology using simulation software that can create specific scenarios to test the driverless system.

“Testing [autonomous vehicles] in the real world is necessary, but can also be limiting,” the company said. “Training inputs like weather and pedestrian behavior are limited to what’s happening in the world at each moment, and it can be unpredictable when you encounter a rare obstacle a second time. If reliant upon on-road miles, it may take some number of billions of miles to test everything. Simply put, the scale makes it impractical to rely only on road miles.”

It added that simulation is cost-effective and also allows engineers to test the technology “without vehicles, without leaving our desks, and for the last few months, without leaving our homes.”

Waymo, one of the biggest players in the field of autonomous vehicles, returned its self-driving minivans to the streets of San Francisco in June, three months after it halted testing. And, like Lyft, Waymo has also been keen to talk about how, despite the suspension of on-road testing, it continued developing its technology through the use of simulation software.

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