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Motional’s robotaxis will be fully driverless in Las Vegas by 2023

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The Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture picks its first city

Image: Motional

Motional, the autonomous vehicle company that is a $4 billion joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, announced the city in which it would launch its fully driverless robotaxi service in 2023, and surprise, surprise, it’s Las Vegas.

Motional first began testing its autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas through a joint partnership with Lyft nearly four years ago. The testing began as a weeklong pilot between Aptiv and Lyft during the annual Consumer Electronics Show in 2018 and has since gone on to complete over 100,000 passenger trips.

Motional as a joint venture was first announced in March 2020, when Hyundai said it would spend $1.6 billion to catch up to its rivals in the autonomous vehicle space. Aptiv, a technology company formerly known as Delphi, owns 50 percent of the venture. The company currently has facilities in Las Vegas, Singapore, and Seoul and has also tested its vehicles in Boston and Pittsburgh.

The company’s test fleet is comprised of BMW 5 series vehicles, which will begin to be swapped out for Hyundai Ioniq 5 SUVs starting next year. Throughout the year, Motional and Lyft will test the vehicles, collecting data on the customer experience, before launching a “full-fledged” commercial robotaxi service in 2023.

Motional has already tested its vehicles without a human safety driver behind the wheel. The tests, which took place in February 2021, came less than three months after the company received the green light from the state of Nevada to test its vehicles without a human safety driver. A company employee sat in the passenger seat of the vehicle during the driverless tests and was capable of stopping the vehicle if needed.

The company hasn’t said how many vehicles will be used during the testing process nor how many will be available at the launch of the commercial service. Motional also wouldn’t describe the geographic dimensions of the service area.

Currently, only a small handful of AV operators have actually deployed fully driverless vehicles, also known as Level 4 autonomous vehicles, on public roads. Waymo, the self-driving unit of Alphabet, has been operating its Level 4 vehicles in the suburbs of Phoenix, Arizona for several years now, and it recently began offering rides to paying customers. Cruise, a majority-owned subsidiary of General Motors, recently tested its Level 4 vehicles in San Francisco. Yandex, the Russian tech giant, tested its Level 4 vehicles in Las Vegas during the Consumer Electronics Show in 2020. And Chinese tech firm Baidu started testing its vehicles without safety drivers in its home country late last year.

Motional isn’t the only company eyeing Sin City for its robotaxi business. Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon, is also testing its autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas.