Latest in Google vs Uber Battle: Lyft In the Picture

Uber’s woes are not about to let up. Google’s parent company Alphabet will reportedly infuse fresh funds amounting to one billion dollars on ride-hailing startup Lyft Inc. The move has raised quizzical brows from those in the ride-hailing industry and has been regarded as a rebuff of Uber.

Alphabet and Lyft, to date, have remained mum on the matter. Nonetheless, talk is rife that the deal is being driven by top-level executives like Larry Page, Alphabet’s CEO. Should the investment materialize, it would be a striking development in the autonomous car playoffs.

Uber Technologies, as many of us know, has been beset with one controversy after another, tarnishing its image. The strong support shown by the Google group for Uber’s main US competitor speaks volumes about how the competitive transport industry is playing out across the world.

Indeed, Lyft has benefited much not only from the increased market share, particularly as Uber reeled from one corporate scandal after another but from the growing investment support from established firms.

With the reported one billion-dollar investment, Lyft will be able to kickstart a more aggressive business strategy to attract both riders and drivers. Lyft has so far obtained $2 billion fund support from big industry players like General Motors, Andreessen Horowitz, Carl Icahn, Mayfield, Floodgate, Mayfield, Coatue Management, Founders Fund, and Rakuten.

Google’s early investments

It can be noted that Google Ventures has plunked investments in about 300 companies in the past. Some of them – including startup firms — have secured billion-dollar valuations. With an eye to the future, the company has also made hefty investments in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and other technological innovations.

The trend is clearly towards autonomous cars, something that Google has shown a keen interest in. The forward-thinking company’s partnership with Waymo – the autonomous car development company emanating from Google’s parent company Alphabet – has led to an autonomous driving system that Google is deadset on protecting.

Google’s interest in self-driving cars dates back to 2009. Uber, likewise, had grand visions and futuristic plans of conducting many of its trips in self-driving, way before real-world problems had set in. It set up a laboratory devoted to self-driving technology in Pennsylvania.

It reportedly tapped lead engineering and commercialization experts from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. There were other places where the company invested in hardware and software systems for its vehicle operations.

Google was among the early investors in Uber. The two companies, as business pundits noted, have had a tense relationship from the start.

Recent months have seen Google’s corporate parent embroiled in a legal brawl with Uber over allegations of trade secret theft. Alphabet filed a legal case against Uber after Anthony Levandowski, a former engineer who used to be employed by Google’s self-driving car division allegedly stole proprietary designs and documents used for Waymo’s self-driving car system.

Levandowski eventually established his own company that Uber acquired in 2016. Uber had denied that the self-driving tuck firm Otto that Levandowski formed has sold to Uber the confidential files. Among the recent developments is a judge ruling that Uber turnover to Waymo the due diligence report on its Otto acquisition.

Lyft announced that it has begun self-driving car development in earnest in July, saying it would ramp up hiring and had signed a lease for a big Palo Alto facility.

Uber’s own thrusts

In other news, former Expedia Chief Dara Khosrowshahi just took on the reins as Uber’s new CEO, injecting much-needed change in the entire organization. To date, Uber is looking to finalize a fundraising deal of its own — an investment from SoftBank Group Corp.

During Travis Kalanick’s term, Uber’s stance on self-driving vehicles as a potential revenue driver was widely known. Uber lost no time in launching its initial fleet of autonomous cars last summer, manifesting a desire to lay out the foundation as an active player in the self-driving car industry.

Uber’s investors, though, would have none of the toxic cultures that became the go-getting company’s downfall. With Kalanick gone, shareholders have eased up worries on a clear risk to their long-term investment was eliminated.

Uber investors understandably desire a company culture and brand anchored on values of accountability, responsibility, and empathy, among others. Qualities of respect, fairness, concern, cooperation, and humility are also highly desired.

At the height of Uber’s problems, there were last-ditch efforts to improve company culture, but even respected professionals could not save it. Their pronouncements on leadership and accountability seemed to come too late.

The clear message conveyed is that for Uber’s autonomous car business to grow, technology alone will not suffice. The supportive sentiments of the public-at-large, or wider society, count as well.

Lyft’s take on autonomous vehicle tech

As companies race to put on the road their self-driving vehicles, Lyft is evidently one company that has gotten much attention. In stark contrast to Uber, whose self-driving plans have been set forth by its former chief, Lyft has uncovered its Open Platform Initiative. It gives due credit to technology firms and automakers with the expertise to develop autonomous vehicle technology.

Industry collaboration, for Lyft’s Chief Strategy Officer Raj Kapoor, is key. The pitfall – as history as shown – is when a partner who has committed to be part of the initiative bolts and starts its own project.

Interestingly, Intel recently disclosed that Waymo self-driving cars are powered by its processors. The news that Alphabet has been using Intel chips all along for its self-driving cars underscores that numerous blue-chip firms will be part and parcel of the unprecedented growth of the high-tech automated cars industry. Alphabet has developed two generations of chips utilized for artificial intelligence in its data centers and is not about to venture into self-made chips.

Depending on how support builds up for, and momentum sustained by, key players in the self-driving car industry, the race for autonomous vehicles continues at high gear. For now, companies are revving up as they use facilities devoted to autonomous vehicle technology research and testing, and either throw support for or edge out, each other.

Image Credit: obsidianphotography