Motional, the recently formed autonomous vehicle joint venture of Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv, has been granted permission to remove the drivers from its vehicles for testing in Las Vegas.
In August, Aptiv and Hyundai formed the $4 billion Motional JV to develop Level 4 and Level 5 self-driving cars with the goal of testing driverless systems this year and rolling out production-ready systems for robotaxis by 2022.
Karl Iagnemma, president and CEO of Motional, said in the coming months the company will complete self-imposed testing and assessment of its autonomous vehicles for safety in different scenarios covering both public and private roads over thousands of miles. This process will also include Level-4 autonomous testing on closed courses this year.
“We’re not taking the shortest or fastest route to driverless operation on public roads,” Iagnemma said in a blog post. “We’re taking the safe route — and sometimes reaching the figurative crosswalk takes a few extra steps. We hope that others will follow our lead.”
Motional said that this will be one of the first fully driverless vehicles on the road. Since 2018, Motional has been conducting robotaxi services in Last Vegas on the Lyft network and has provided more than 100,000 rides.
Las Vegas has become a hotbed for driverless vehicle testing due to its reliance on vehicles to commute visitors and residents around the highly trafficked city. Additionally, since Las Vegas is home to the world’s largest tradeshow, CES, numerous self-driving startups showcase their technology in the city.
Self-driving tests in Las Vegas began a few years ago where Torc Robotics and Clarion tested its technology on the busy streets of the city. In 2019, more companies brought their systems to Las Vegas including Mercedes Benz, Yandex and Motional’s parent Apriv, which at CES 2020 gave rides to CES attendees from Las Vegas’ McCarran International Airport.
Motional recently re-started its self-driving test ride-hailing program with Lyft in Las Vegas after being shut down temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The re-launch comes with enhanced protective measures in place including addition partitions between the front and rear seats, outfitting the vehicle operators with PPE, requiring all occupants to wear masks and sanitizing each vehicle at the start of each shift, in-between rides and at the end of a shift. The re-launch included using the first branded Motional robotaxis since the launch of the joint venture.