People in Austin who use the ride-hailing service Lyft will have the option of selecting a self-driving car starting in 2022. But, at least initially, two humans will sit in the front as “test specialists” in case anything goes wrong. Ford’s self-driving vehicles, including the Escape Hybrid SUV, are powered by technology from Argo AI, a Pittsburg-based company that includes Ford and Volkswagen as major investors. The vehicles will launch first in Miami later this year. They’re scheduled to arrive in Austin in the first half of 2022. The number of self-driving Lyft vehicles operating on Austin streets will be relatively small at first. Ford, Lyft and Argo AI are giving themselves five years to get “at least 1,000 autonomous vehicles on the Lyft network” across multiple cites, they said in a joint press release. More details about the size of the fleet in Austin will be revealed closer to launch, a Lyft spokesperson said. “This is a technology that is going to roll out in pockets,” said Jody Kelman, who leads product management for the consumer arm of Lyft’s self-driving division. “We always see that there will be a huge place for [human] drivers on our network.” Ford started testing self-driving cars in Austin three years ago. The auto-maker had initially planned to launch its commercial self-driving service in 2021, but last year pushed the date back to 2022, citing the pandemic. Autonomous vehicles are allowed to operate on Texas roads under a law adopted by the state Legislature in 2017. The vehicles must comply with all traffic laws, have recording devices on board and be covered by liability insurance, among other requirements. “It’s a very exciting time for new mobility, especially for Austin,” said Jason JonMichael, the assistant director of Smart Mobility in the Austin Transportation Department. “But I believe that we will not see at any time in the near future or even the foreseeable future where there is full autonomy on all roads,” JonMichael said. “There’s going to be a level of human operation for quite some time.”

*By Nathan Bernier, KUT90.5 Austin’s NPR Station*

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