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Tech I took my first ride in a self-driving car, thanks to Lyft — and it was actually pretty boring, but in a good way

Lyft and Aptiv teamed up to let people at CES 2018 take a free self-driving car ride around the Las Vegas strip.

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Me in the back of a self-driving Lyft. play

Me in the back of a self-driving Lyft.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)

LAS VEGAS — When I had the chance to hail a self-driving Lyft at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, I jumped at the opportunity.

A car that drives on its own and will ferry me around the Las Vegas strip? "Sure," I thought.

It sounded a little scary but totally futuristic. Plus, I'd never ridden in a self-driving car before.

So on Wednesday morning, my colleague Kif Leswing and I showed up at a parking lot near the Las Vegas Convention Center to hail a self-driving Lyft ride. Lyft partnered with autonomous vehicle startup Aptiv for the event — Aptiv provided the car and the self-driving technology, while Lyft handled the ride-hailing part.

We had a nice ride around Las Vegas, but it turned out to be one of the least thrilling things I've done at CES so far — but that's a good thing.

Autonomous car company Aptiv is one of seven companies Lyft partners with.

Autonomous car company Aptiv is one of seven companies Lyft partners with. play

Autonomous car company Aptiv is one of seven companies Lyft partners with.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)

Jody Kelman, Lyft's product lead for its self driving platform, described their method as "plug and play": Companies like Aptiv, Waymo, and Jaguar Land Rover provide the cars, but they use Lyft's open platform for things like autonomous ride-sharing.



The coolest thing about the cars is how subtly Aptiv added the sensors, called LIDAR.

The coolest thing about the cars is how subtly Aptiv added the sensors, called LIDAR. play

The coolest thing about the cars is how subtly Aptiv added the sensors, called LIDAR.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)

They're built right into the car rather than sitting on the roof like a lot of other companies. Those arrows point to a few, but they were others all over the body of the car.



It's actually so hard to tell it's a self-driving car that it had to be stamped across the back bumper.

It's actually so hard to tell it's a self-driving car that it had to be stamped across the back bumper. play

It's actually so hard to tell it's a self-driving car that it had to be stamped across the back bumper.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


We opened up the Lyft app to request a ride...

We opened up the Lyft app to request a ride... play

We opened up the Lyft app to request a ride...

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


...and in a matter of seconds, our ride was ready for us.

...and in a matter of seconds, our ride was ready for us. play

...and in a matter of seconds, our ride was ready for us.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


Here's me in front of our ride. Aptiv uses BMW 5-Series sedans, which makes for a nice ride. And check out those red rims!

Here's me in front of our ride. Aptiv uses BMW 5-Series sedans, which makes for a nice ride. And check out those red rims! play

Here's me in front of our ride. Aptiv uses BMW 5-Series sedans, which makes for a nice ride. And check out those red rims!

(Business Insider)


When we got in the car, this screen was wedged between the two front seats. To get going, we had to press the pink button that said "Start ride."

When we got in the car, this screen was wedged between the two front seats. To get going, we had to press the pink button that said "Start ride." play

When we got in the car, this screen was wedged between the two front seats. To get going, we had to press the pink button that said "Start ride."

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


Each car has a pilot and a copilot. Our pilot wasn't allowed to talk to us because he needed to stay hyper-focused on the road, but Kelman served as our copilot and explained the process.

Each car has a pilot and a copilot. Our pilot wasn't allowed to talk to us because he needed to stay hyper-focused on the road, but Kelman served as our copilot and explained the process. play

Each car has a pilot and a copilot. Our pilot wasn't allowed to talk to us because he needed to stay hyper-focused on the road, but Kelman served as our copilot and explained the process.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


Since we started out on private property, we had to drive in manual mode.

Since we started out on private property, we had to drive in manual mode. play

Since we started out on private property, we had to drive in manual mode.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


But once on public roads, the system announced it was switching over to autonomous mode. Look, no hands!

But once on public roads, the system announced it was switching over to autonomous mode. Look, no hands! play

But once on public roads, the system announced it was switching over to autonomous mode. Look, no hands!

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


Here we are driving along the Las Vegas strip:



We could watch our progress on the screen and check whether the car was in manual or autonomous mode. I only saw the pilot take over control once throughout the trip, and only because it was at a tricky turn near some construction.

We could watch our progress on the screen and check whether the car was in manual or autonomous mode. I only saw the pilot take over control once throughout the trip, and only because it was at a tricky turn near some construction. play

We could watch our progress on the screen and check whether the car was in manual or autonomous mode. I only saw the pilot take over control once throughout the trip, and only because it was at a tricky turn near some construction.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


The roads were pretty clear when we started out, and the car cruised along. I noticed that the system was a little more conservative than a human driver might be, since it typically stopped at yellow lights.

The roads were pretty clear when we started out, and the car cruised along. I noticed that the system was a little more conservative than a human driver might be, since it typically stopped at yellow lights. play

The roads were pretty clear when we started out, and the car cruised along. I noticed that the system was a little more conservative than a human driver might be, since it typically stopped at yellow lights.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


Once, while sitting at a light, the car detected a person in the crosswalk and didn't move even though the light turned green. And it's especially lucky it didn't, since the person was a police officer.

Once, while sitting at a light, the car detected a person in the crosswalk and didn't move even though the light turned green. And it's especially lucky it didn't, since the person was a police officer. play

Once, while sitting at a light, the car detected a person in the crosswalk and didn't move even though the light turned green. And it's especially lucky it didn't, since the person was a police officer.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


Eventually we hit traffic. The car inched along like a human driver would, but did one thing few human drivers would ever do: It let two cars merge in front of it.

Eventually we hit traffic. The car inched along like a human driver would, but did one thing few human drivers would ever do: It let two cars merge in front of it. play

Eventually we hit traffic. The car inched along like a human driver would, but did one thing few human drivers would ever do: It let two cars merge in front of it.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)


All in all, the ride was pretty unremarkable. Kelman told us someone even fell asleep in the back of the car on a ride the day before.

Here's me and Kif in the back of our ride. play

Here's me and Kif in the back of our ride.

(Avery Hartmans/Business Insider)

Technology works best when it fits seamlessly into your life, and that's how the self-driving car felt. After the initial moment when it switched into autonomous mode, the ride felt like every other Lyft ride I've ever taken.

By the time we drove to Caesar's Palace and back, I was 100% comfortable in the car. In fact, the most exciting moment was at the end, when the car completed a perfectly executed U-turn on a busy street and the wheel turned all on its own.

Otherwise, the ride was almost boring. But compared to the alternative, boring is actually pretty great.