Motional, the Aptiv-Hyundai joint venture that's working to commercialize autonomous driving technology, has launched its new all-electric IONIQ 5-based robotaxi for driverless ride-hail operations on the Lyft network in Las Vegas. The news follows years of collaboration between the two companies in Las Vegas.
The launch of the IONIQs, which marks the turnover of Motional's fleet of BMW-based AVs, is right on schedule. Motional and Lyft said last November that they would aim to start transporting passengers using the Hyundai vehicles in the City of Sin by the second half of 2022, with a full-scale commercial launch set for 2023.
Similar to Motional's autonomous ride-hailing service that the company launched with Via in February, riders will not be charged for autonomous Lyft rides -- the companies are mutually focused on rider feedback, said a company spokesperson. The spokesperson also noted that Motional has a permit to conduct fully driverless testing anywhere in Nevada, and that Motional and Lyft will secure the appropriate permits to start conducting commercial rides in fully driverless vehicles ahead of the launch in 2023.
The Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles has not responded to TechCrunch's requests for clarification on what permits those might be, but a spokesperson from the department previously told TechCrunch the state is working on drafting new legislation around AVs. Nevada's current legislation doesn't make a distinction between testing or operating AVs with a human safety operator onboard or without, nor does it include specific language around commercializing robotaxi or autonomous delivery.
Motional did not share how many IONIQ 5s will be deployed in Las Vegas, but the company did say it will continue to expand its fleet over the course of 2022 as it gears up for its commercial launch next year.
Any Lyft rider in Las Vegas can request a Motional AV, according to the spokesperson. There will be two vehicle operators present in the front seats -- presumably one behind the steering wheel in case a human needs 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 along the Vegas strip and will only be available during daytime hours, which is fair when one considers that not many AV systems are trained to spot and avoid drunk hooligans vomiting on the street.
Customers who order a robotaxi ride can use the Lyft app to unlock the doors of the autonomous IONIQs. While inside the vehicle, riders can interact with an in-ride display that allows them to start the ride or contact customer support. Many of the features within the vehicles come from years of testing and rider feedback from over 100,000 rides over the last four years, according to Motional.
Motional has said for a time that it plans to expand to other major U.S. cities after commercially launching in Las Vegas, but the company hasn't said which other cities it is targeting. Like 47 other companies, Motional has a permit to test its driverless technology in California, a state that has become a key battleground for companies like Cruise and Waymo. Indeed, in May, Motional began a delivery pilot with Uber Eats in Santa Monica, and in July the company expanded its autonomous testing in San Diego. However, Motional might look further afield for less competition. Late last year, Motional began increasing public road testing in its hometown of Boston, and in order to really stand out amongst the competition, putting an AV service on the icy streets of New England might be just the right challenge.