For anyone brave enough to imagine the future it is clear that autonomous vehicles are coming and that the flying cars taxi chase of The Fifth Element will be a reality soon after. The question that remains unanswered is who will be part of the future of transportation. More and more players are claiming a stake in the multibillion market place, but like any innovation the odds of winning are 50%/50% until the industry gets mature enough for us to even see what it will be. So who are you betting on? Uber? Lyft? Yourself?
The Uber bet
Uber is going for the vertical integration – the whole pie. The future industry of urban transportation will be made of players in three different categories: cars, self-driving software, and ride-sharing network. With the #UberVolvo deal Uber made a stake in the cars part of the equation. They already have the ride sharing network and the in house research and development of self-driving software. Every company struggles with the right balance of internal development vs. partnerships. There are pros and cons of either approach. The factors in the final decision are costs of maintaining the technology (capital vs. operating), level of customization available (much harder when the technology is built by a partner) and speed to market (depending on the staffing level of the internal teams the speed can be faster or slower if the R&D is internally driven). Uber is betting on taking all the risk and owning all parts of the autonomous vehicle ecosystem.
The Lyft bet
In contrast, Lyft approaches the future through partnerships. Their vision improving lives with the world’s best transportation inspires the creation of cities for people, not cars. In the last two years they have formed multiple partnerships with various small and big players in the new tech space. The choice of partners: Waymo, nuTonomy, Drive.ai (self-driving software) and the large direct investment by GM (cars), proves that Lyft plans to be an integral part of the autonomous vehicle solution (ride-sharing network), but not the whole technology stack. Their strategy is much more tactical in nature. Lyft does not need to build the whole future of urban transportation. It suffices to be the bolt without which the system will not function. The success of this approach is founded on successful partnerships and is collaborative in nature.
The George Hotz belt
And if you still want to own a car in the future, the self-driving platform Openpilot and the Neo device may be the way to go. The Neo will transform your Honda or Acura into an autonomous vehicle that you can control with Openpilot. George Hotz’s company Comma.ai has activated users to share driving data to perfect the self-driving algorithms for the future by learning from drivers today. In his opinion “Self-driving cars need nothing but engineers in order to solve it.”
The approach to autonomous vehicles of Lyft is more congruent with the sharing nature of the future economy. Sharing is rooted in partnering and collaborating with others. The future generations are less likely to associate themselves with a conglomerate that monopolized the market space. It looks like Lyft, although a smaller player, does have the more sustainable strategy to autonomous vehicles. Then again, we are missing a big piece of the puzzle. We really do not know how the government will play in this space and if it will come up with regulatory obstacles that require a lot of funding to overcome. Smart brands put equal time and energy in building partnerships with the government agencies. So far Uber is behind on that front too. Both Uber and Lyft are making bold moves in the autonomous vehicles space. The question is, who has the winning strategy?