Motional, the Hyundai-Aptiv venture, and on-demand shuttle startup Via are looking at launching a shared robotaxi service for the general public during a U.S. city in the first half of 2021. The companies said the aim is to develop a “blueprint” for on-demand shared robotaxis and find out how these driverless vehicles are often integrated into mass transit.
TechCrunch mentioned in a news report that the businesses said that more specifics would be shared at a later date, didn’t identify the town, provide information on the geographic scope of the service or number or sort of vehicles that might be used. However, the companies did say that the service will be launched in one of the U.S. cities where Motional already operates, narrowing down the possible list to Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Santa Monica.
Under the partnership, Motional’s autonomous vehicles are going to be connected with Via’s platform, which takes care of the booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience and fleet management. The partnership seems similar to the arrangement that Motional has with Lyft in Las Vegas.
Motional president and CEO Karl Iagnemma said that this partnership comes at an especially significant moment, as COVID reshapes everyone’s views on transportation and consumers demand more, flexible, and varied options. He pointed to a recent research by Motional that found that of the 70% of Americans who were surveyed stated that the risk of infection impacts their transportation choices, and one-in-five are more curious about self-driving vehicles than they were before the pandemic.
Via and Motional said the service will undertake a number of security measures, such as partitions, personal protective equipment like masks, frequent sanitizing and contact tracing to ensure the health and safety of vehicle occupants.
Via already has some experience in testing and demonstrating how its platform can be utilized to hail autonomous vehicles. Last October, Via, Hyundai and Chinese AV company Pony.ai partnered to supply a BotRide service in Irvine, California. The service used a fleet of electrical, autonomous Hyundai Kona crossovers, equipped with a self-driving system from Pony.ai and Via’s ride-hailing platform. Via has also conducted demonstrations with Navya and Aurrigo, and in its “BusBot” AV service in New South Wales, Australia.