Autonomous vehicle startup Motional has revealed images of the autonomous robotaxi that it claims Lyft customers will be able to hail through the app beginning in 2023. Motional is a joint venture between Hyundai and Aptiv, and perhaps not surprisingly the new vehicle to use its self-driving technology will be a Hyundai Ioniq 5 fitted with a ton of sensors — “more than 30,” to be precise.
Details about the program remain scarce, such as how many vehicles Motional will deploy to start, or what cities they’ll be available in. Other companies in the autonomous space including Google’s Waymo and Ford’s Argo AI are rolling out pilot programs in select cities including San Francisco and Miami, with a small number of cars. Motional has already been operating a fleet of BMW 5 series vehicles in Las Vegas in collaboration with Lyft.
So many sensors — The Ioniq 5 that Motional will use is one of Hyundai’s first electric cars to be built upon the automaker’s new modular platform for electric vehicles, essentially the technology — like batteries and electric powertrains — that will underpin a series of forthcoming battery-electric cars.
Motional is going the route of others in the autonomous space by relying on a series of sophisticated sensors including cameras, lidar, and radar, which will allow the vehicles to understand the three-dimensional space around them with a 360-degree field of vision. Tesla has shunned most sensors in favor of simple cameras and a neural network trained on vast amounts of driving data, which it bets will give it a cost and reliability advantage as different sensors might provide varying information. The rest of the industry argues that a suite of different sensors is necessary to ensure vehicles are getting enough data to understand the road ahead.
Nobody yet knows what technological solution will win out. A formal probe launched following a series of crashes by Tesla vehicles operating in semi-autonomous mode might vindicate players that are betting on more sensors rather than less. Either way, the industry has moved much slower to introduce its technology to the public than once expected. So it’s fair to remain skeptical even of Motional’s promise to introduce the new car by 2023.
Gradual consolidation — Lyft previously invested in autonomous vehicles itself, but eventually gave up and sold its research division to Toyota. The industry has consolidated as companies like Google have poured billions into R&D and still have a long way to go before autonomous driving is commonplace. The giant tech companies have cash from other lines of business that they can invest into self-driving that Lyft does not. Instead, the ridesharing company, which is trying to reach profitability, has inked exclusive deals with self-driving companies that will see their cars offered on its service.