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Ford and partner Argo AI will launch Lyft self-driving cars this year

The first autonomous cars ready for ride hailing will hit the road in Miami by the end of this year.

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Ford self-driving car with Lyft

Look out Miami, there are some new machines in town.

Ford

Ford last year said it needed to delay its robotaxi service until 2022 because of the pandemic, but now a big first step will happen this year. On Wednesday, Ford announced that by the end of 2021 it will deploy the first self-driving cars with its partner Argo AI on ride-hailing service Lyft's network. The first cars will land in Miami, the automaker said.

This first step is one of many to commercialize (that's corporate speak for "make money") autonomous ride-hailing services. Many companies and automakers have promised these services for years now, but Google's sister company Waymo is the only one to actually pick riders up and charge them a fare. And that's only outside of Phoenix -- far from nationwide.

Ford and Argo AI will create defined service zones in Miami, and Lyft users will have the option to choose an autonomous Ford Escape to pick them up. When the car arrives, there will be a human safety driver onboard but the vehicle itself will drive riders to their destination. The companies didn't share details on where these service zones will be, or how much of the city they'll span. Essentially, like Waymo, the cars will operate in a geofenced space to ensure the cars stay in well mapped areas that they understand fully.

But a big dose of reality comes with today's announcement: Ford said this pilot program paves the way to launch 1,000 autonomous vehicles on Lyft's network over the next five years. That's it, just 1,000 cars by 2026. (Lyft currently has 1.4 million human drivers.) This is an industry that once thought we'd be deploying autonomous cars at scale by, well, now. Nevertheless, Ford plans to launch another small fleet of cars in Austin, Texas, in 2022 as it continues to expand its work with Lyft and Argo AI.