Motional is now testing Level 4 fully driverless vehicles on public roads in Las Vegas. The Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture said the testing, which began earlier in February, consist of multiple driverless Chrysler Pacifica minivans navigating intersections, unprotected turns, and interactions with other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.
There is a caveat: a Motional employee remains in the passenger seat during the tests and can stop the vehicle if needed. Motional can test anywhere in Las Vegas, but said it’s keeping the vehicles in residential areas for now and will only test during the day. Motional said there hasn’t been any human intervention yet.
Motional joins a short list of robotaxi companies that have tested fully autonomous vehicles on public roads. Of course, Waymo has a robotaxi service up and running in Arizona. Cruise recently began testing fully driverless cars in San Francisco, but it too has a human operator in the passenger seat in case of emergencies. In late January, Chinese self-driving pioneer AutoX opened its fully driverless robotaxi program to the public in Shenzhen. This is the first time the general public in China can book a ride in a robotaxi that doesn’t have a safety driver, AutoX claimed. Baidu started testing its vehicles without safety drivers in China late last year.
“Not all driverless systems are created equal. Ours is the product of decades of innovation, a relentless commitment to safety and process, more than a million miles of testing, and a rigorous external review,” said Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO, Motional. “We’re one of the first companies in the world to go driverless. It’s a significant step on our path to making driverless vehicles a safe, reliable, and accessible reality, and a proud day for Motional.”
Nevada approved Motional for fully driverless vehicle testing in November 2020. These tests are separate from Motional’s ride-hailing program with Lyft, which has already provided 100,000-plus paid rides in Las Vegas. This service has always had a human safety driver behind the wheel. The vehicles also are required to be in manual mode in parking lots and hotel pick-up areas.
Prior to the fully driverless tests, Motional sought external review from TÜV SÜD, a well-respected German testing house that has extensive experience testing driverless technology. According to Motional, the 18-month external review included detailed reviews of its safety architecture designs, analyzed testing processes and results, scrutiny of training procedures and reviews of the qualifications and skill of the team.
Laura Major, CTO, Motional, recently joined The Robot Report Podcast to discuss the challenges of developing and deploying Motional’s technology, including the service in Las Vegas. She also discussed when the safety drivers could potentially be removed and when Motional’s service will be commercially available to fleet operators. You can listen to the conversation with Laura below, starting at about the 48-minute mark.