Motional partners with Via to launch a robo-taxi service in the U.S.

Motional, a joint self-driving research collaboration between Aptiv and Hyundai, today announced a partnership with Via that the companies say will serve as a blueprint for an on-demand, shared robo-taxi service. Ahead of the partnership’s launch in the first half of 2021, Motional and Via say they’ll build infrastructure to connect Motional’s driverless vehicles with Via’s technology that powers booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment and identification, customer experience, and fleet management.

Some experts predict the pandemic will hasten the adoption of autonomous transportation technologies. Despite needing disinfection, driverless cars can potentially minimize the risk of spreading disease. But surveys are mixed, with one from Partners for Automated Vehicle Education showing nearly three in four Americans believe autonomous cars aren’t ready for prime time. Unsurprisingly, Motional itself disagrees with this assertion. One-fifth of respondents to its Consumer Mobility Report are “more interested” in autonomous vehicles than they were before the pandemic.

Motional and Via, which say their service will launch in one of Motional’s existing U.S. markets, will use Via’s existing ride-sharing app to show the vehicles’ status, alongside public transit information. “Once the driverless service is live, riders in the launch market will be able to download the Via mobile app to book a ride within the appointed service zone,” a spokesperson told VentureBeat via email. “A vehicle operator will be present in each vehicle during service.”

The companies also say they’re working on protective measures, including personal protective equipment, partitions, frequent sanitizing, contact tracing, and more to ensure the health and safety of vehicle occupants.

“This partnership comes at an especially significant moment, as COVID reshapes our views on transportation and consumers demand more, flexible, and varied options,” president and CEO Karl Iagnemma said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to partner with Via and jointly lay the foundations for driverless shared rides. This is another step toward driverless technology reaching its full potential.”

Last week, Motional said it would resume its self-driving mobility service with Lyft in Las Vegas, after pausing operations due to the pandemic. The Motional program is a continuation of Lyft’s two-year-old partnership with Aptiv (formerly Delphi) to launch a fleet of autonomous vehicles on Lyft’s ride-sharing network. Formerly a product of Aptiv’s internal mobility and services group, the robo-taxis became available to the Las Vegas public May 2018 on an opt-in basis. But unlike the Waymo One program in Phoenix, Arizona, Motional’s program isn’t fully autonomous. Safety drivers are behind the wheel during every trip, and vehicles are required to be in manual mode in parking lots and hotel pickup areas.

Via isn’t a newcomer to the autonomous driving space. In July 2019, the company announced the debut of a driverless shuttle program in New South Wales, Australia, in partnership with the BusBot project, local bus operator Busways, local government agency Transport for New South Wales, and startup EasyMile. In October, Via helped kick off a self-driving ride-sharing program in Irvine, California dubbed BotRide with startup Pony.ai and Hyundai.

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