The Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture to commercialize autonomous driving technology has launched its new all-electric IONIQ 5-based robotaxi for driverless ride-on snow jobs at Lyft Network in Las Vegas. The news follows years of collaboration between the two companies in Las Vegas.
The launch of the IONIQs is on schedule, marking a transformation of Motional’s fleet of BMW-based AVs. Motional and Lyft said last November that they aim to start transporting passengers in Sin City in the second half of 2022 with Hyundai vehicles, with a full commercial launch slated for 2023.
Similar to Motional’s autonomous ride-hailing service, which the company launched via Via in February, drivers don’t pay for autonomous Lyft rides — the companies are jointly focused on driver feedback, a company spokeswoman said. The spokesperson also said that Motional is licensed to conduct fully driverless tests anywhere in Nevada, and that Motional and Lyft signed a contract in 2016. They said they would get the proper approvals to start commercial trips with fully driverless vehicles before the launch in 2023.
The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles did not respond to TechCrunch’s questions to clarify what those permits might be, but a department spokesperson previously told TechCrunch that the state is working on new legislation around AVS. Current Nevada law does not differentiate between piloting or operating AVs with or without a human safety operator on board, and does not include specific language on the introduction of robotaxis or autonomous delivery.
Motional didn’t share how many IONIQ 5s it will deploy in Las Vegas, but said the company will continue to expand its fleet through 2022, when it plans to launch the business next year.
Any Lyft driver in Las Vegas can request Motional AV, a spokesperson said. There will be two vehicle operators in the front seats – perhaps one behind the driver if someone wants to take over, and one in the passenger seat to record data and observations. The service route is focused on high traffic and popular destinations on the Vegas Strip and will be available only during daytime hours, which is appropriate when one considers that many AV systems are not trained to avoid the vomiting of drunken hooligans on the street.
Customers ordering a robotaxi ride can unlock the doors of autonomous IONIQs using the Lyft app. While in the vehicle, drivers can interact with the in-dash display, allowing them to start the ride or contact customer support. Many of the features in the vehicles are derived from testing and driver feedback from more than 100,000 rides over the past four years, according to Motional.
After launching for business in Las Vegas, Motional has said for some time that it plans to expand to other major U.S. cities, but the company did not specify which cities it is targeting. Like 47 other companies, Mobile is licensed to test its driverless technology in California, a state that has become a key battleground for companies like Cruze and Waymo. In fact, in May, Motional launched a delivery pilot with Uber Eats in Santa Monica, and in July the company expanded its standalone test to San Diego. However, Motional can look further afield for less competition. Late last year, Motional began ramping up public road tests in its hometown of Boston, and to stand out during the season, providing AV service on the snowy streets of New England could be a real challenge.