LOS ANGELES — The robot cars are coming.
This week, the autonomous vehicle company Motional announced it would begin testing robotaxis in Los Angeles.
“Los Angeles has long been an important part of Motional’s global operations that span across the U.S. and Asia, and we’re happy to announce that we’re doubling down on our West Coast footprint,” said Motional president and CEO Karl Iagnemma in a statement announcing the company’s LA expansion.
Last year, Motional partnered with the ride-hailing company Lyft to deploy a driverless rideshare service in major U.S. cities starting in 2023. Cars for the service will be fully-driverless vehicles provided by Motional — a joint venture between the Korean automaker Hyundai and the auto supplier Aptiv that is headquartered in Boston.
Since 2017, Motional and Lyft have been operating a commercial robotaxi service in Las Vegas. The service has so far given more than 100,000 rides.
The robotaxis that will drive around LA are all-electric Hyundai Ioniq 5s. Unlike the consumer version of the battery-electric midsize crossover SUV, the Motional Ioniq 5s will be equipped with sensors, LiDAR, radar, cameras and software that not only allow them to drive without a human behind the wheel, but also see and respond more quickly than a human to improve safety. Motional says the technology enables a 360-degree view around the robotaxi, including up to 300 meters away.
Motional has had a presence in the LA area since 2016, when it opened a facility in Santa Monica to work on machine learning and hardware. It plans to double its Santa Monica staff this year and move into a larger space.
In addition, Motional will open a new operational facility in LA to begin public road mapping and testing this month. This will be the first time Motional will test its driverless cars in LA. It's already testing its robotoxis in Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Singapore using simulations and real-world driving on closed courses and public roads.
Motional also announced it will expand to the Bay Area, opening its first office in Silicon Valley to house a computing design team. Iagnemma said that expanding its operations in California is designed to better position Motional to secure talent, testing capabilities, and research and development resources.
California approved truly driverless vehicle testing and operations on public roads in 2017 and is home to dozens of companies that are developing autonomous technology.
As of July 21, the California Department of Motor Vehicles had issued permits to 54 companies to test automated vehicles with a human safety driver, including Lyft. Eight of those companies also have permits to test vehicles on public roads without a driver behind the wheel, and one of them has received authorization to deploy the technology.