Motional partners with Uber on Robotaxis

Motional, a Hyundai-backed autonomous taxi startup, will partner with Uber to bring its robotic taxis to cities across the United States in the next decade as part of its push to make people more comfortable with the concept of taking a ride. in a driverless electric vehicle.

Though based in Boston, Motional has maintained significant operations in Santa Monica since 2016. Last August, it expanded its testing facility and doubled its staff in Los Angeles. the viability of its autonomous taxis in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Singapore.

But Motional’s deal with Uber marks a new chapter for both companies as they seek to make self-driving vehicles the norm. For starters, Motional plans to import its driverless technology installed in Hyundai’s IONIQ 5 electric cars into Uber’s network. The plan is that Uber customers in “cities in the US.” can take a driverless taxi by the end of this year.

Motional CEO Karl Iagnemma said on Thursday that the deal could be key to the mass adoption of autonomous taxis. Especially since the deal gives Motional access to Uber’s valuable network of millions of riders in the US and its proprietary mapping systems.

Earlier this year, Uber and Motional teamed up to experiment with Motional’s robotaxis by delivering meal kits through Uber Eats in Santa Monica. It’s worth noting that Motional is also working with Uber competitor Lyft to offer self-driving rides in Las Vegas.

Motional and Uber declined to reveal which cities might see self-driving rides first, but it’s certainly ambitious for them to target by the end of the year, as the broader robot taxi industry is still struggling to iron out some of its problems. Most importantly, they have to find a way to convince people to drive around in a car piloted by a robot.

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A 2017 MIT study found that 48% of respondents said they would not buy an autonomous vehicle for safety reasons. A more recent AAA study published in 2021 found that only 14% of respondents said they would be comfortable traveling in a self-driving car, while 54% said they would be afraid to try one. The same study also noted that only 22% of people thought automakers should focus on self-driving technology, while the majority of drivers felt companies should focus their attention on improving vehicle safety systems. current vehicles.

Motional and Uber will also face some serious competition. Last February, the California Department of Motor Vehicles reported that the number of companies testing self-driving cars had doubled.

Currently, more than 50 companies have permits to test driverless technology statewide. The top startups ranked by test-drive miles were Waymo and Google’s Cruise, a San Francisco-based startup backed by General Motors. Other companies conducting tests included established names like Tesla, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan and Honda, as well as Tesla, Amazon subsidiary Zoox and Silicon Valley startup

Another potential roadblock? Motional and Uber do not yet have permits to conduct self-driving tests in Los Angeles. As such, for the pilot program with Uber Eats, Motional did not technically make its cars self-driving, as a human operator had to be present.

However, it can’t be overstated how much most people still don’t trust self-driving cars.

In June, when Cruise began charging fees for self-driving rides in San Francisco, they quickly became embroiled in an investigation after one of their cars collided with a Toyota Prius at an intersection, injuring both passengers. Also, when a reporter from the New York Times took a ride in one of Cruise’s self-driving vehicles, the car had trouble stopping for traffic lights in time and on one occasion stalled for a non-existent accident. Worse yet, last summer, an outage in Cruise’s network caused some of its cars to stand still, leading to a gridlock that lasted a couple of hours at a busy intersection in san francisco.

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All of this is to say that despite the goals of Motional and Uber, it seems we are a long way from mass adoption of robotic taxis, even if there is a large cohort of tech giants looking to push them forward. A TikToker posted a video of her using a self-driving car last month, and her comments on her replies said it all: “no, absolutely not.”

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