Motional robotaxi service (with safety drivers) resumes in Las Vegas

Motional today resumed its robotaxi service in Las Vegas. The service, which is open to the public, has provided 100,000-plus paid rides via Lyft’s ride-sharing network. Like many other autonomous vehicle efforts, Motional’s service was put on hold in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike the Waymo One robotaxi service near Phoenix, Motional’s service in Las Vegas isn’t fully driverless at this time. Human safety drivers are behind the wheel of each trip in case they need to take over control. Also, the vehicles are required to be in manual mode in parking lots and hotel pick-up areas.

Motional said it’s taking extra precautions to reduce the risk of passengers being infected by COVID-19. The new protective measures follow CDC, World Health Organization, and government guidelines, and include:

  • A partition has been placed between the front and rear seats.
  • The safety drivers wear personal protective equipment
  • The vehicles are sanitized at the start of each shift, the end of each day, and between rides.

The video below is a demo of the service during CES 2019. While things have certainly changed since then, it still gives a glimpse into what Motional is doing.

“We’ve put extensive measures in place to keep our fleet thoroughly and frequently sanitized, and our passengers safe and healthy,” said Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO, Motional. “We’re thrilled to bring the fleet back, and very proud of its place in history. It’s the longest-standing service of its kind, responsible for introducing self-driving cars to hundreds of thousands of people.”Motional is the re-branded autonomous driving joint venture of Hyundai and Aptiv. Aptiv was formerly known as Delphi. The robotaxi service in Las Vegas launched in 2018. The BMW’s operating in the Las Vegas fleet now carry Motional’s branding.

Motional’s announcement comes two weeks after Waymo resumed its robotaxi service and expanded access to fully driverless rides in the Phoenix area. San Francisco-based Cruise also recently received approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to remove safety drivers for its test on specific parts of the city. And Tuesday night, Tesla released the beta version of its “full self-driving” software. Beta users have started uploading videos of their self-driving Teslas, some of which you can find on Reddit. Ford’s Argo AI, which does not offer rides to the public, also restarted testing this week.

Laura Major, the chief technology officer at Motional, recently joined The Robot Report Podcast. We talked to Laura about 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. Another topic of discussion was why Motional remains committed to robotaxis when other autonomous vehicle companies are putting more emphasis on autonomous trucking and logistics applications. You can listen to the conversation with Laura below, starting at about the 48-minute mark.

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