Uber has launched public robotaxi rides in Las Vegas using Motional’s Hyundai Ioniq 5 autonomous EVs with the aim of offering a full driverless service to the public in 2023. It will eventually expand to Los Angeles, where the two companies have been testing autonomous Uber Eats deliveries since May 2022. It’s all part of a 10-year agreement between Uber and Motional to offer autonomous ride-hailing and deliveries.
The taxi rides will be monitored by safety drivers, with the goal of launching a fully driverless service to the public in 2023. “Today, Motional becomes the first AV company to conduct all-electric autonomous rides on the Uber network for public passengers,” said Motional VP Akshay Jaising. (Uber offered “autonomous” taxi rides using its own self-driving tech back in 2016, but riders were accompanied by engineers ready to take the wheel.)
Lyft also partners with Motional, a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv. It beat Uber to the punch by launching Motional rides in Las Vegas in August this year with safety drivers on board. Lyft has also said it will ditch those drivers and offer true autonomous service by next year.
Don’t be surprised if that timeline changes, though. Apart from Motional, only Alphabet division Waymo and GM’s Cruise are offering true driverless services at a reasonably large scale. The Waymo One service is operating in Phoenix and San Francisco, while Cruise rides are currently limited to San Francisco. Both operate only in specific areas of cities (which can be mapped out in great detail) and some vehicles still use safety riders.
Uber co-founder Travis Kalanick once said that the his company had to be “tied for first, at least” in the race to offer true driverless rides. Since both Uber and Lyft rely on Motional for self-driving tech, that’s exactly what might happen.