Dailymail.com tries Lyft’s self-driving car in Las Vegas

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By now we’ve all heard about self-driving cars; from Tesla and Ford to newcomers such as Byton, research and development in the field has skyrocketed over the last few years.

But for some, including myself, the reality of driverless cars navigating busy city streets has still remained a far-off concept. That is, until today.

At CES this week, Lyft and Aptiv offered free rides in their Pilot autonomous BMWs, and Dailymail.com got a firsthand look at the future of ride-sharing.

In somewhat of a surprise, the roughly 20-minute drive along the Las Vegas strip was smooth from start to finish – even considering one nerve-wracking moment when the vehicle was cut off by another car.

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 When you first get in, it’s not all that different from getting into a typical Lyft, as someone is sitting in the driver’s seat. But, the backup driver keeps their hands off the wheel except in situations where it’s required they take over. But instead of a smartphone with GPS on the dashboard, the self-driving Lyft is equipped with a small display that shows everything it sees

INSIDE LYFT’S SELF-DRIVING CAR 

Instead of a smartphone with GPS perched on the dashboard, the self-driving Lyft is equipped with a small display that shows everything it’s seeing in real-time.

Cars, pedestrians, and other objects on side of road displayed as clusters of little blue dots, while purple route lines and yellow special indicators can also be seen moving around on the screen.

The cars communicate with small boxes mounted on the traffic lights, allowing them to understand the color of the light even when if they can’t ‘see’ it.

This works as a redundancy factor, to make the trip even safer, explained Nandita Mangal, who’s in charge of rider experience.

Whenever the car makes a decision, such as a lane change, it announces its activity to the riders. 

At the Lyft pickup spot at the Las Vegas Convention Center, hopefuls began filling the tent the moment it opened.

But, lining up wouldn’t do you any good.

Securing a spot in one of the self-driving cars was a process one Lyft staff member likened to ‘the Hunger Games,’ offering a pick-up to anyone fast enough to click ‘Reserve’ the second the button popped up on everybody’s screens.

Over the course of the week, some were left waiting for hours.

Luckily, we managed to land a ride within about 45 minutes.

Once you’ve confirmed, you must sign a waiver before getting in. While the rides are autonomous, each car is accompanied by a backup driver who sits behind the wheel, and a host who walks you through the experience.

And, there are some conditions in which the human driver is required to take over – including in private parking lots, and in construction zones.

When you first get in, it’s not all that different from getting into a typical Lyft, as someone is sitting in the driver’s seat.

But instead of a smartphone with GPS perched on the dashboard, the self-driving Lyft is equipped with a small display that shows everything it’s seeing in real-time.

Cars, pedestrians, and other objects on side of road displayed as clusters of little blue dots, while purple route lines and yellow special indicators can also be seen moving around on the screen. 

The cars communicate with small boxes mounted on the traffic lights, allowing them to understand the color of the light even when if they can’t ‘see’ it.

This works as a redundancy factor, to make the trip even safer, explained Nandita Mangal, who’s in charge of rider experience.

During the brief ride from the LVCC’s Gold Lot to the Aria hotel, it was almost easy to forget that we were riding in a self-driving car.

It made no sudden stops and always used its turn signal.

But, occasional announcements, such as ‘lane change checking,’ were a quick reminder.

The car ‘knows what lane it has to map and how the route is going to be,’ Mangal said.

At CES this week, Lyft and Aptiv offered free rides in their Pilot autonomous BMWs, and Dailymail.com got a firsthand look at the future of ride-sharing

At CES this week, Lyft and Aptiv offered free rides in their Pilot autonomous BMWs, and Dailymail.com got a firsthand look at the future of ride-sharing

It can assess the context of each situation, to understand how close or far it should be from the car ahead.

Though in general, it tends to remain about half the length of a car’s distance away from out.

‘We’ve had people jump out in front of the cars,’ Mangal told Dailymail.com.

‘The idea is that we are not just seeing them, we are also tracking them. So we’re seeing, we’re trying to figure out their intentions. What are the intentions of, say, this car? Is it swerving to the right?’

And, in the Las Vegas morning rush, it wasn’t long before this was put to the test.

As the autonomous car made its way down a straight road, another vehicle in the on-coming lane decided to make a last-minute left turn into a parking lot, cutting right in front of our Lyft.

I immediately prepared for an abrupt stop – but instead, the car gently eased itself into a slow cruise and completely avoided anything close to a collision.

‘It saw that car, and it’s slightly slowing down to give it enough space,’ Mangal told Dailymail.com.

The autonomous car always drives the speed limit, and can even handle driving on the highway.

As the car pulled into the Aria, our safety driver Eric once again took over using a button on the steering wheel, and brought the incredible – and surprisingly uneventful – ride to an end.

 





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