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Lyft might build a ‘zen mode’ to let drivers know you don’t feel like chatting

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Turning shared rides into quiet cars

Ride-sharing apps are a godsend, but they sometimes come at a cost that goes beyond the $8 or $10 you spent to get home from the club. Chatty drivers can turn every ride into an awkward simulacrum of a first date. Where are you from? How long have you lived here? What do you do for work?

Of course, many of these icebreakers lead to great conversations. I genuinely enjoy chatting with the incredibly nice people who are taking time out of their day to drive me, on demand, to a place of my choosing. And yet sometimes it’s 4:30 in the morning, and I’m headed to the airport for work, and all I really want to do is close my eyes and go to sleep — without offending the driver. Should ride-sharing companies build a “quiet mode”?

“We have thought about it,” Taggart Matthiesen, head of product for autonomous driving for Lyft, told me. “I think it’s interesting. At some point, we may play around with that idea, but that’s unfortunately not a feature at this point.”

Matthiesen says that a “zen mode” would represent another step in more personalized rides, a move the company plans to accelerate as it changes gradually to include more autonomous vehicles. “The autonomous car is going to know a lot more [about you],” Matthiesen said. “It’s going to know your temperature that you’re going to want. It’s probably also going to know that it’s early in the morning, and so it’s going to have a dark-lit cabin to let you sleep. Maybe you can even relax in the seat, and the back will extend into some sort of lie-flat mode. Maybe not complete lie-flat, just based on the area, but a good recline.”

Lyft is currently testing self-driving cars in Las Vegas in a partnership with the British company Aptiv. In March, it signed a deal with auto parts maker Magna to build and deploy its own self-driving cars. For Lyft, which is valued at more than $15 billion, autonomous vehicles represent an important plank of the company’s plans to remain competitive against larger competitors like Uber, which has grand autonomous driving plans of its own.

Matthiesen lays out his thoughts on how Silicon Valley should change its priorities on this episode of Converge, an interview game show where tech’s biggest personalities tell us about their wildest dreams. It’s a show that’s easy to win, but not impossible to lose — because, in the final round, I finally get a chance to play and score a few points of my own.

You can read a partial, lightly edited transcript with Matthiesen below, and you’ll find the full episode of Converge above. You can listen to it here or anywhere else you find podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Pocket Casts, Google Play Music, Spotify, our RSS feed, and wherever fine podcasts are sold.

Casey Newton: I want to propose a feature. You may have heard this before, but I want to know how you think about it. Look, I can be a chatty person — that’s why I started a podcast. Every once in a while, I will order a Lyft rather early in the morning — let’s say I’m going to the airport like 5AM — and I don’t want to chat. Sometimes the driver wants to chat and ask me about my life story. Have you guys considered some sort of setting in the app where you’re just able say, “You know what, I’m not feeling chatty today.”

Taggart Matthiesen: Like a zen mode.

A zen mode if you will.

We have thought about it.

What do you think about that?

What do I personally think about it?

Yeah.

I think it’s interesting. At some point, we may play around with that idea, but that’s unfortunately not a feature at this point.

Well, I mean, that was why it was a request.

The autonomous car is going to know a lot more [about you]. It’s going to know your temperature that you’re going to want. It’s probably also going to know that it’s early in the morning, and so it’s going to have a dark-lit cabin to let you sleep. Maybe you can even relax in the seat, and the back will extend into some sort of lie-flat mode. Maybe not complete lie-flat, just based on the area, but a good recline.

It’s going to be incredibly luxurious when this time arrives. I would also like it if the car could be chatty, sort of like KITT in Knight Rider, and ask me the traditional questions of, “Hey, so, how long have you lived in the city? What do you do here? Hey, business or pleasure?” That kind of thing.

It could be like being on a podcast.

Yes, exactly. A podcast that is never released or shared with anyone.