More and more companies are restarting their autonomous vehicle testing with Motional and Lyft resuming their test fleet operations in Las Vegas.
The move follows similar announcements by Waymo, which resumed testing near Phoenix, and Cruise, the General Motors subsidiary that plans begin testing in the coming weeks in San Francisco. Lyft’s other autonomous testing vehicles in California resumed testing in late June, after halting operations in late March.
Motional runs a fleet of robotaxis that are available for public use through the ride-hailing service Lyft. The Las Vegas fleet vehicles are separate from those in California as they use Motional’s autonomous technology. The service was paused due to COVID-19 restrictions but is now employing new CDC-approved protective measures to ensure rider safety.
The new protection includes a partition between the front and rear seats; vehicle operator personal protective equipment; and vehicle sanitization at the start of each shift, the end of each day, and between rides.
“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 joint-venture brainchild of Hyundai and Aptiv, formerly part of Delphi, and its goal is the development and commercialization of SAE Level 4 vehicles. This means autonomous vehicles that perform all driving tasks. Motional will begin testing fully driverless systems in 2020, and its driverless systems and supporting technology will be available for robotaxi providers and fleet operators in 2022.
While Motional continues its progress developing and commercializing a production-ready autonomous driving system, Aptiv will help pave the way for self-driving vehicles with advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) solutions that save lives today and create trust in highly automated vehicles.
With the new safety measures in place, the two sides are looking to continue the race to development of Level 5 autonomy, which could allow Lyft – or Uber or Tesla or whoever else develops it – employ a massive fleet of driverless taxis. Eliminating the driver could mean a dramatic increase in profits for whatever company hits the finish line first.
“In these turbulent times it’s energizing to see the continued innovation made by both Motional and Lyft as we push towards delivering self-driving cars at scale,” said Nadeem Sheikh, VP Autonomous Vehicles Programs at Lyft. “Getting this fleet back up and running is a significant jumping off point as we prepare to launch a robust set of new features for the self-driving fleet.”
Lyft’s fleet, launched in 2018, has provided over 100,000 rides to paying members of the public, with 98% of passengers awarding their ride a five-star rating, the company notes. However, studies show that there is still reticence by many to get into a driverless vehicle. Lyft, and other proponents, say these services help sway public opinion about the self-driving car.