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Autonomous driving

Motional to begin robotaxi dispatch next year

The autonomous vehicle company is a joint venture between Hyundai Motor Group and auto supplier Aptiv

By Jan 13, 2022 (Gmt+09:00)

Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO of Motional
Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO of Motional

US-based autonomous vehicle company Motional Inc. announced its plans for the commercialization of driverless cars based on the all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5, in a written interview with The Korea Economic Daily. As the first step, the company forged a partnership with Uber Technologies last year. 

President and CEO of Motional Karl Iagnemma said the company is “evolving to a dual-purpose product strategy," alternating between transporting passengers for ride-hail and conducting autonomous deliveries. 

The robotics scientist believes driverless technology will fundamentally change how we move about our lives. "The time previously spent driving can be better spent socializing, working, or relaxing during a driverless ride."

Iagnemma named a few reasons for the IONIQ 5 being the right vehicle for its robotaxi services. Not only is it more efficient and sustainable thanks to zero emissions technology and fast charging, the size is also ideal for most ride-hail trips. A majority of trips on ride-sharing apps are for two or fewer passengers.

Currently, only a handful of companies around the world can dispatch self-driving vehicles on public roads.

Motional began fully driverless testing in early last year and through robust engagement with industry partners, plans to launch a fully driverless public robotaxi service starting next year. 

“We're the only one in our industry to have partnerships with Lyft, Via, and Uber Eats,” Iagnemma said. “Partnerships with these global on-demand networks are critical to scaling driverless technology.”

The joint venture between Hyundai Motor Group and auto supplier Aptiv is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. It also maintains operations in Pittsburgh, Singapore, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.

The following is an excerpt from the interview with Mr. Iagnemma.

▲ Motional has announced plans for a robotaxis-based delivery service. Could you share more about the following plans and vision following the announcement? 

"Last month, we announced that Motional will begin conducting autonomous deliveries in partnership with Uber Eats in Santa Monica, California. This is a first-of-its-kind partnership that marks Motional's entry into autonomous delivery and Uber Eats' first partnership with an autonomous vehicle (AV) company for delivery. The deliveries will be conducted in Motional's next-generation robotaxi, the all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5-based robotaxi, developed through strategic partnership with Hyundai. 

Autonomous delivery presents a significant new market opportunity for Motional - in the US, demand for food delivery has doubled since the start of the pandemic and the use of mobile food delivery apps was up 20% in 2021."

▲ What are the strengths of Hyundai IONIQ 5 as a base model for Motional's robotaxi service? 

"The IONIQ 5 was the right vehicle platform for our next-generation robotaxi for many reasons, including:

It is the right vehicle for us from a sustainability perspective. The IONIQ 5 robotaxi represents the two most transformative technologies in mobility coming together: electrification and autonomy. This is a zero-emissions robotaxi that will not only make transportation safer and more accessible - it will make it more sustainable. Furthermore, the efficiency of the powertrain delivers ultra fast charging and long-range driving. We will need minimal charges throughout the day. 

It is the optimal platform for robotaxi rides. We know that the large majority of ride-hail trips are for two or fewer passengers, so the IONIQ 5 allows us to comfortably serve the bulk of our target customer pool, which is potentially millions of riders.

Finally, it is a vehicle that consumers are going to want to ride in. The IONIQ 5 robotaxi has a sleek design that celebrates the advanced driverless technology, and a spacious, comfortable interior for passengers to work, socialize, or relax during their driverless ride."

▲ People are anticipating fiercer competition in the autonomous driving service market especially in the US market. What are the technological and business strengths of Motional compared to competitors? 

"Since the founding of Motional in 2020, we have distinguished ourselves as an industry leader both technically and commercially. Furthermore, our heritage and strategic partnerships with Hyundai Motor Group and Aptiv uniquely positions Motional for success. We have the software and hardware expertise needed to develop a fully integrated driverless vehicle that can be manufactured on a global scale. 

Technically, there are only a handful of industry leaders with the advanced technology needed to operate fully driverless vehicles on public roads and Motional is one of them. We began fully driverless testing in early 2021 and will be launching a fully driverless public robotaxi service starting in 2023. That service will launch in Las Vegas before expanding to other markets globally. 

Commercially, Motional leads the industry as the robotaxi fleet provider of choice for the ride-hail industry. We're the only one in our industry to have partnerships with Lyft, Via, and Uber Eats. Partnerships with these global on-demand networks are critical to scaling driverless technology. Motional is well positioned to reach millions of customers through its ride-hail and delivery services."

▲ Some people are turning skeptical about the future of autonomous driving technology amid delays in technological development. Could you share your view on this market skepticism?

"Ten years ago this industry didn't exist, and up until a few years ago, people were still questioning the viability of the technology. Now, there is no question that this is possible. 

There are self-driving robotaxis moving real passengers every day across the world, and, as I mentioned before, several industry leaders, Motional included, have demonstrated fully driverless operation. 

We've proven the technology is possible and now the conversation has to turn to scale. In order to scale, you need to have a cost optimized product. This is where Motional's partnership with a global leader in vehicle manufacturing, Hyundai, is key. We have developed the IONIQ 5 robotaxi to be safe and reliable, but also cost optimized for global production. This is critical for wide commercialization."

▲ Development of autonomous technology is one thing and actual people's adoption of the technology is another. Even after technological advancement, some people might still be reluctant to ride autonomous driving vehicles. How will you cope with the sentimental barrier? 

"Consumer adoption is incredibly important for scaling driverless technology and it is an area where Motional excels. We have been operating a commercial robotaxi service in Las Vegas for over four years and have already introduced hundreds of thousands of consumers to driverless technology, with 98% of those riders awarding their ride a five star rating.

This level of experience is unparalleled in our industry and is a key competitive advantage. The service has provided invaluable learnings, including what it takes to offer a successful robotaxi ride and convert repeat riders. Along with providing a rating, passengers were also asked to provide feedback after their ride. What we learned, which may be surprising to some, is that there was much less of a focus on the technology than you might expect. Riders were more concerned with typical ride-hail concerns such as adequate trunk space for luggage. This feedback emphasized that operating a commercial robotaxi service encompasses far more than driverless technology-it's about the entire end-to-end passenger experience."

Write to Byung-uk Do at dodo@hankyung.com

Jee Abbey Lee edited this article.
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