Driverless technology company Motional has been given the nod by Nevada officials to begin operating autonomous vehicles without a safety driver next year in Las Vegas.
Motional, a recently formed joint venture between Aptiv and the Hyundai Motor Group, has been testing autonomous vehicles in Las Vegas, mainly on the resort corridor, since 2018 and has provided over 100,000 rides to passengers through its partnership with ride-hailing giant Lyft.
During those rides, a safety driver has been in place in the company’s fleet of autonomous BMW 5 series vehicles in case of emergency and to operate the vehicles while on private property.
In the next phase, however, the vehicles will operate without the safety driver. The driverless vehicles also won’t feature public passengers and will operate separate from the Lyft partnership.
“This has been a landmark year for both the driverless industry and Motional, and we’re quickly approaching another milestone: in the coming months, Motional will go fully driverless on public roads,” said Motional President and CEO Karl Iagnemma in a blog post. “The state of Nevada, where we’ve safely served hundreds of thousands of passengers through the world’s most-established robotaxi service, has granted us permission to remove the driver from our vehicles.”
In October, the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles approved Motional’s plan to operate autonomous rides without a safety driver in place, green-lighting the company’s Las Vegas plans.
“The DMV is excited to approve Motional’s application to safely test fully driverless vehicles on Nevada’s public highways,” said DMV Director Julie Butler in a statement Wednesday. “Nevada was the first state to approve autonomous vehicle testing in 2012. We’re looking forward to continuing our partnership with Motional and staying at the forefront of autonomous vehicle innovation.”
Before Motional launches the fully autonomous rides sans a safety driver, the company will complete a testing and assessment period this year, analyzing safety and performance measures in the thousands of miles logged on public and private roads since 2018. Fully driverless test drives on a closed course will also occur this year.
“We’re not taking the shortest or fastest route to driverless operation on public roads,” Iagnemma said. “We’re taking the safe route — and sometimes reaching the figurative crosswalk takes a few extra steps.”
Iagnemma envisions the use of driverless vehicles increasing road safety, with the ability to remove possibly intoxicated, drowsy and distracted drivers from roads.
With testing occurring worldwide, Iagnemma believes fully driverless rides will become increasingly prevalent in the coming years.
“Put simply: we’re building the foundations to change transportation on a global scale,” Iagnemma said. “That sounds ambitious. It is ambitious. In the coming months, we’ll put some of the world’s first fully driverless vehicles on the road, and in the coming years we’ll make them an everyday reality.”