Introducing Level 5 and Our Self-Driving Team

Luc Vincent
4 min readJul 21, 2017


For a long time, we at Lyft have shared our plan to help end car ownership in order to usher in a transportation revolution that improves our communities and quality of life. To do so we need to build an ecosystem that offers a variety of ride types, including both rides with drivers as well as rides from self-driving vehicles.

Today, we’re excited to announce the next stage of our plan to make this hybrid ecosystem a reality. Lyft is opening its own self-driving division, which is developing an open self-driving system (open SDS).

This news builds on the announcement we made earlier this year, when we created the world’s first open self-driving platform. Lyft’s self-driving vehicles will operate on that network, alongside vehicles introduced by Lyft partners. 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.

To be clear, we aren’t thinking of our self-driving division as a side project. It’s core to our business. That’s why 10% of our engineers are already focused on developing self-driving technology — and we’ll continue to grow that team in the months ahead. Their efforts will be housed in a brand-new development facility in Palo Alto, which we are calling the Level 5 Engineering Center.

We believe Lyft is in the best position to demonstrate what a great overall user experience can be. Lyft is also uniquely positioned to build technology in collaboration with partners in a way that makes it possible to roll out self-driving cars at scale in the fastest, safest, most efficient way.

This is true for a few reasons. First, Lyft has significant scale, which enables us to rapidly train our self-driving system. Every day, there are over one million rides completed on our network in over 350 cities. This translates into tens of millions of miles on a daily basis. We are already able to use the data collected during these rides to understand our world better, which helps us deliver a better experience for our passengers and drivers alike. For example, we gain insights into factors like traffic patterns, demand hotspots, and driver utilization by region. Going forward, we see great opportunities to add more sensing capabilities to Lyft vehicles, which makes it possible to build High Definition 3D maps, while quickly collecting training data for self-driving cars at large scale.

And because we’re doing all of this on an open platform, it won’t just enhance Lyft’s self-driving system. It will accelerate our partners’ efforts, too. They’ll be able to tap into our wealth of data and experience to create the best self-driving experience. All of this can happen much more quickly because we’re working together to create the transportation ecosystem that will define our future.

Lyft will always operate a hybrid network, with rides from both human-driven and self-driving cars. When a passenger requests a ride that a self-driving car can complete, we may send one to complete the trip. If that person needs to go somewhere self-driving cars are unable to navigate, or their needs call for a different level of service, they will have a driver. But in either event, we’ll make sure everyone can get where they need to go.

As self-driving technology improves, these vehicles will be able to serve more and more of our rides every year — until eventually, we’ve rolled them out at scale. But it’s going to take a robust, hybrid network like ours to make that transition seamless.

Ultimately, self-driving cars won’t just transform our streets — they’ll change our lives. One of my favorite studies has demonstrated that widespread adoption of self-driving cars will lead to a 90% reduction in accidents. It will also mean 80% fewer vehicles on the road — opening up more space for all of us in our cities and communities. Having fewer cars on the road will also dramatically reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, according to another study, if most transportation is eventually serviced by self-driving electric vehicles, we could reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by a gigaton every single year. That’s the same amount as annual emissions from California and Texas combined right now.

This is what drives us at Lyft — to build a future where shared, self-driving cars make transportation cheaper and more efficient for everyone. It’s a future where there are fewer cars on the road and less traffic. A future where we can devote less of our space to roads, concrete, and parking lots — and more to parks, playgrounds, homes and local businesses. It is a future where cars no longer contribute meaningfully to greenhouse gas emissions, and with less pollution to cloud our blue skies. It’s a future, in short, where we build our communities and our world around people, not cars.

I joined Lyft earlier this year because I believe we can make that vision a reality. (If you do too, come join us!) It’s thrilling to be part of a company that’s committed to building the future of mobility, while making our world a better place. When I think of the work ahead, I couldn’t be more excited about what we’re building, together. So stay tuned — we’ve got a big year ahead of us.

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