Lyft’s The Autonomous Vehicles Division has resumed testing on public roads in California several months after an operational halt in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lyft’s Level 5 program announced Tuesday that some of its autonomous vehicles are back on the road at Palo Alto and on its closed test track. The company did not resume a pilot program that offered trips to Lyft employees in Palo Alto.
The company said it follows CDC guidelines for personal protective equipment and surface cleaning. It also adopted several additional security measures to prevent the spread of COVID. Each autonomous test vehicle is equipped with partitions to separate the two security operators inside, the company said. Operators must wear face shields and submit to temperature controls. They are also matched for two weeks at a time.
Lyft’s Level 5 program – a nod to the SAE automated driving level which means the vehicle handles all driving in all conditions – launched in July 2017 but has not started testing on California public roads than in November 2018. Lyft then intensified the testing program and its fleet. At the end of 2019, Lyft drove four times more autonomous kilometers per quarter than it was six months previously.
Lyft had 19 autonomous vehicles tested on California public highways in 2019, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, the main agency that regulates electric vehicles in the state. These 19 vehicles, which operated during the reporting period from December 2018 to November 2019, traveled nearly 43,000 miles in autonomous mode, according to Lyft’s annual report published in February. Although this is a miniscule figure compared to other companies such as Argo AI, Cruise and Waymo, it represents progress within the program.
Lyft supplemented its road tests with simulation, a strategy on which it relied more heavily during stops related to COVID. And it will likely continue to rely on simulation even if local governments lift restrictions and the economy reopens.
Simulation is a cost-effective way to create additional control, repeatability and security, according to a blog post published Tuesday by Robert Morgan, director of engineering, and Sameer Qureshi, director of product management at level 5. The pair said the simulation also allowed the level 5 unit to test its work without a vehicle, without employees leaving their desks and, in recent months, without leaving their homes. Level 5 employs more than 400 people in London, Munich and the United States.
The use of simulation in the development of autonomous vehicle technology is a well-established tool in the industry. Lyft’s approach to data – which it uses to improve its simulations – is what sets the company apart from its competitors. Lyft uses the data collected from drivers on its piloting application to improve simulation tests as well as to create 3D maps and understand human behavior patterns.
The Level 5 program takes data from certain vehicles in Lyft’s Express Drive program, which provides rental cars and SUVs to drivers on its platform as an alternative to options such as long-term leasing.