- Ride-hailing company Via has partnered with automaker Hyundai and autonomous vehicle (AV) startup Pony.ai to unveil BotRide, an on-demand robotaxi service on public roads in Irvine, CA. It is set to launch on Nov. 4.
- Customers in the city will be able to hail from a fleet of Hyundai KONA electric SUVs through the BotRide app, with passengers directed to nearby pick-up and drop-off stops. A human safety driver will initially be present for all rides.
- The AVs will be equipped with Pony.ai's latest sensors and software to help navigate other vehicles, pedestrians and its surroundings, as well as plot out the most efficient route to a stop. Pony.ai is one of just four companies permitted to operate autonomous ride-hailing services in California, along with AutoX, Waymo and Zoox.
Pledges to launch robotaxi networks have been an intriguing part of the battle to be first to roll out AVs on public streets, as companies of various sizes and statures look to make their mark on the mobility landscape.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk pledged a fleet of robotaxis on public streets would be available next year, while Zoox plans to run tests in Las Vegas, also in 2020, and launch a self-driving on-demand service soon after. A company spokesperson declined to share a more specific timeline with Smart Cities Dive.
Meanwhile, Google-backed Waymo appears to be leading the way on AV rollout, with its self-driving vehicles available in metropolitan Phoenix and the company promising they will be "fully driverless" without a safety driver. While Via's partnership with Hyundai and Pony.ai does not yet make promises about full autonomy without a human present, this partnership in Irvine represents a major step forward.
It should hopefully provide plenty of interesting takeaways, both for the partners involved in this initiative as well as others in the space. In a statement, Christopher Chang, head of Hyundai's business development, strategy and technology division, said the Irvine project has a goal "to study consumer behavior in an autonomous ride-sharing environment."
"We are going to learn about ecosystems, where the vehicles travel and optimize the customer experience," he continued.
The involvement of Hyundai also points to a wider trend among automakers. Increasingly, companies including Ford and BMW-owned MINI are moving beyond making single-occupancy cars and instead looking at ways to support new mobility.