Uber is collaborating with driverless technology startup Motional to provide autonomous car rides in Las Vegas, with hopes to extend to other major cities such as Los Angeles.
Starting on Wednesday, Uber users in Las Vegas may request an autonomous version of the Hyundai-designed IONIQ 5 mid-sized SUV. The Motional modified IONIQ 5 has 30 outside sensors, together with cameras, radar, and lidar systems, which enable Level Four autonomy by identifying threats at an ultra-long range. In other words, automobiles can operate autonomously, although in a few specific situations and only in pre-approved (geofenced) areas.
The other features of the Ioniq 5s remain the same, including a range of 238 to 315 miles and 220kW quick charging, which enables the batteries to refuel from 10% to 80% charge in 18 minutes.
The self-driving cars cannot be requested directly by customers. Instead, users must choose “UberX” or “Uber Comfort Electric” to be paired with a Motional vehicle. Customers will need to opt-in before the trip is confirmed, and a self-driving car will be sent to pick them up if one is available. Two “vehicle operators” are dispatched in the robocars to keep an eye on the technology and offer further assistance to passengers. According to Motional, if a robotaxi encounters challenging circumstances (such as road construction or flooding), an operator can remotely manage it to steer it to safety. Once the robotaxi has arrived at the agreed-upon pickup location, the Uber app will urge users who have accepted it to unlock the doors.
The companies aren’t charging for driverless rides, but they plan to do so once the service is available to the general public.
The debut of the robotaxi service comes after the introduction of self-driving Uber Eats deliveries in Los Angeles in May as part of a 10-year business agreement between Uber and Motional.
Exactly two years after selling its self-driving division to Aurora Innovation, the launch ushers Uber into a new age of autonomous vehicles. Automation has long been considered a means of reducing costs and accelerating service by rideshare companies like Uber and Lyft.
With the potential to serve millions of customers, Uber claims that its recent cooperation with Motional would result in one of the largest deployments of autonomous vehicles on a major ride-hailing network.
Since 2018, Motional has been providing robotaxi services in Las Vegas through Lyft, a competitor of Uber; however, until 2020, trips were provided under the parent company Aptiv.