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Lyft launches new push into self-driving cars

Lyft launches new push into self-driving cars
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Technology company Lyft announced on Friday that it is creating its own self-driving car division, setting it up to further compete with ride-hailing rival Uber.

Lyft said that it would hire hundreds of engineers for the self-driving division, which will be housed in a new San Francisco office.

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“We want to take a proactive role into pushing the industry into a more open environment,” Raj Kapoor, Lyft’s chief strategy officer, told reporters on Thursday at an event, according to The Wall Street Journal. “The only way to do that is to go deeper and to develop these technologies.”

Lyft had previously started development in the autonomous vehicle space but had been doing so via partnerships with companies such as Waymo, a Google subsidiary, and General Motors, which had been developing its own technology in the space.

Lyft’s new division marks a change in the company’s strategy, as it shifts from partnerships to its own advancement of self-driving car technology. It also comes at a time when chief rival Uber is beset with public relations issues.

But Lyft says that its new initiative will not affect its partnerships.

“In the years ahead, we will continue to bring the world’s leading automotive and technology companies onto this single platform to serve a nationwide passenger network. And together, we will continue to drive toward a single, shared objective: to build the world’s best transportation ecosystem,” said Luc Vincent, Lyft’s vice president of engineering.

Vincent noted that the division would “build technology in collaboration with partners.”

The company’s move to jump into the autonomous vehicle sphere is relatively late compared with Waymo, Uber, Tesla and others that have spent more time developing the technology; however Lyft says it is not worried about catching up.

“While these players started a long time ago, the technology has evolved since then,” Vincent told the Journal. “We can build on the current technology and move faster.”

The move comes as Uber faces fallout from recent revelations and missteps, including the news that Uber covered up a massive data breach last year.

One former employee at the company noted to The Hill that while Uber is still in a dominant position, the company was wary of potentially losing out on engineering talent who might not want to associate with former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick. Kalanick stepped down as CEO last month amid reports of a toxic culture at Uber.

Uber's own self-driving car division is also the subject of a lawsuit from Waymo, which accuses the company of stealing its trade secrets.

Lyft’s announcement also comes days after the House Commerce consumer protection subcommittee advanced legislation on self-driving cars that would ease restrictions in the space. If passed, automakers will be able to manufacture 100,000 autonomous vehicles a year.