A new robotaxi service has officially launched for public use in Las Vegas. It’s being run by Lyft and an autonomous vehicle company called Motional and is a prelude to a fully driverless service that is set to launch in the city in 2023.
Motional, which is a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, has been testing its autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas through a joint partnership with Lyft for over four years now. 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.
Today, the companies are announcing the public launch of that service, marking the first time that customers can hail a ride in one of the company’s autonomous, all-electric Hyundai Ioniq 5 vehicles that has been modified for commercial operations. A safety driver will remain behind the steering wheel in case something goes wrong, similar to how other robotaxi services have launched over the years. But Motional and Lyft say fully driverless vehicles will join the service next year.
Unlike other robotaxi services in the US, Motional and Lyft aren’t requiring potential riders to sign up for a waitlist or sign a non-disclosure agreement to join a beta-testing program. And rides will be free; the companies plan to start charging for the service next year.
“The service is open to the public,” Akshay Jaising, Motional’s VP of commercialization, said in an email. “Any Lyft rider in Las Vegas can request a Motional AV. No NDAs. No sign-ups. That’s how Motional and Lyft have operated for the past four years. We believe the best feedback is from real riders, not employees or limited participants.”
Customers hoping to ride in one of Motional’s autonomous vehicles will have access to a range of new features that make this service unique from Lyft’s traditional network of vehicles. For example, customers will be able to unlock the doors through the Lyft app. Once inside the vehicle, they’ll be able to start the ride or contact customer support from the new in-car Lyft AV app featured on an in-car touchscreen.
Motional and Lyft say the new features are backed by “extensive research and feedback from real riders to maximize their comfort and ease of use.” The companies are making the new user features available to the public now in preparation for when the service plans to be fully driverless next year.
Motional says it has a permit to conduct “fully driverless testing anywhere in Nevada.” The two companies say they will secure the appropriate permits to begin conducting commercial rides with passengers in fully driverless vehicles ahead of the launch in 2023.
Motional 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, along with Aptiv, a technology company formerly known as Delphi, which 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.
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 is seeking permission to do so in San Francisco. Cruise, a majority-owned subsidiary of General Motors, has a commercial service running with its driverless vehicles in San Francisco, but only at night.
Meanwhile, Lyft to positioning itself as a platform in which customers in cities across the country can arrange rides in autonomous vehicles. The ride-hailing company sold off its AV research and development division to a subsidiary of Toyota last year. Since then, Lyft has struck deals with Motional, Waymo, and Argo, a self-driving company backed by Ford and Volkswagen.
And Motional isn’t the only company using Sin City as a base for its robotaxi business. Zoox, a subsidiary of Amazon, is also testing its autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas.