Motional announced a series of upgrades to its IONIQ 5 robotaxi fleet in Las Vegas, including night driving capability and increased connectivity and comfort for riders via an app. The updates come on the heels of Motional’s third annual Consumer Mobility Report, which found that nearly half of robotaxi riders said they would utilize the service again.
“Las Vegas is a city that really comes alive once the sun goes down, so extending our service to match rider demand is a critical step forward in the evolution of our vehicle,” said Akshay Jaising, Motional’s Vice President of Commercialization. “We’re happy we can now spend more hours every day introducing passengers to our technology and helping them travel safely and comfortably where they need to go.”
Fully Driverless Service
Motional has partnered with Lyft and Uber to offer autonomous rides on specific routes along the Las Vegas Strip. At the time of this writing (late February 2023), safety operators are still in the front seat, though the IONIQ 5 vehicles operate in autonomous mode. However, Motional plans to remove the human operator from the front seat and go fully driverless later in 2023. According to the company, its vehicles have provided over 125,000 public rides across more than two million autonomous miles without an at-fault accident.
“Motional’s robotaxis rely on a sophisticated sensor suite that includes more than 30 cameras, radars, and LiDARs,” explained Jared Miles, Senior Technical Program Manager at Motional. “The vehicles benefit from having multiple sensing modalities; high-resolution cameras, for example, differentiate between objects in the vehicle’s path and background structures.”
By offering nighttime rides, more people have the potential to interact with emerging autonomous technology, though Motional’s team members are aware of the challenges and mindful of potential objections. “We were not seeing increases in swerving, hard stops, or other examples of factors that create uncomfortable rides,” Miles said of Motional’s nighttime testing data. “It means our tech is ready for this next challenge.”
Remote Vehicle Assistance System
Motional’s robotaxi fleet is now connected to a Remote Vehicle Assistance system or RVA for short. The RVA system helps a robotaxi safely maneuver around obstacles or challenging road conditions, day or night, in place of a safety driver. According to the company, RVA will use machine learning principles to train the system as the robotaxis travel more around Las Vegas.
“As advanced as these vehicles are, and as many scenarios as they can handle, they will undoubtedly find themselves in some driving situation they’ve never experienced before,” said Greg Butron, Motional Principal Engineer. “RVA helps vehicles navigate complex conditions and continue their journey safely.”
Motional Rider App
Since Motional intends to offer a fully driverless robotaxi service, they are releasing an app that allows riders to communicate with the vehicle. Riders can unlock the vehicle, start the ride, activate the climate control system, and even contact customer service through the app.
“Because there won’t be any human drivers in these vehicles, we need to make sure passengers have control over essential ride comfort features, such as climate control,” said Robert Agne, Motional Product Manager. “We want them to feel like it’s more their own personal space.”