Autonomous in Boston

nuTonomy is a company that is working to develop software for self-driving vehicles.

nuTonomy is a company that is working to develop software for self-driving vehicles. It is conducting real-world trials of its tech in a self-driving car service in Singapore, pretty much the other side of the world from MIT, where its two founders—Drs. Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli—hail from. (They are also testing autonomous vehicles in Boston, which is certainly closer to Cambridge.)

Lyft is a five-year-old company that is now the fastest-growing rideshare company in the U.S., a firm that General Motors has invested $500-million in.


The two companies have announced that they’ve entered into an R&D partnership, one focused on addressing the “comfort and safety” of the passengers in autonomous vehicles.

The initial work will be performed in Boston, where, as mentioned, nuTonomy has been testing its self-driving electric cars (with an engineer on board) since the beginning of 2017.

What’s interesting about the announcement is a comment from Logan Green, CEO and co-founder of Lyft: “At Lyft, we imagine a world where car ownership is optional and cities are designed for people instead of cars. Partnering with nuTonomy is an important step toward making this vision a reality.”

For one thing, this whole idea of “optional” car ownership has tremendous implications for automotive companies, be they OEMs or suppliers. When monthly sales reports come out and the SAAR is down a bit some people seem to be incapable of catching their breath.

Just imagine if 10 percent of the driving public decided to no longer own a car. While this wouldn’t take 10 percent out of the fleet—because there need to be vehicles to be hailed and/or shared—it would still be a structural reduction.

Which needs to be taken into account vis-à-vis capacity.

And Green’s observation about city design has implications, as well. Autonomous cars are likely to be more orderly and deliberate in their moves, which could mean that there could be a greater density of cars moving through a given area without the need for additional roadways. And this is greatly facilitated by vehicle-to-infrastructure communications: traffic flow is enhanced.

Anyone who has spent any time driving in Boston knows how nice something like this would be were it to come to pass.