You can’t buy a self-driving car but, in certain parts of the country, you can ride in one. Hyundai is the latest company to launch a pilot ridesharing service using prototype autonomous cars. Beginning November 4, a fleet of autonomous Hyundai Kona Electric prototypes will provide free rides around Irvine, California.
“The goal is to study consumer behavior in an autonomous ridesharing environment,” Christopher Chang, head of Hyundai’s business development, strategy, and technology division, said in a statement. “We are going to learn about ecosystems, where vehicles travel, and optimize the customer experience.”
Hyundai has teamed up with Pony.ai — a Chinese startup that also has ties to Toyota — on the autonomous-driving system used in the rideshare cars. Pony.ai provided sensors and proprietary software governing how cars analyze data and make driving decisions, according to Hyundai.
The app Californians will use to hail these cars — called BotRide — was co-developed with ridesharing company Via. Similar to the app used for Via’s own ridesharing service, BotRide directs riders to nearby locations for pickup, avoiding lengthy detours while still preserving the convenience rideshare users love. Cars will operate within a set area that encompasses “several residential, commercial, and institutional points of interest,” according to Hyundai.
This isn’t the first time Hyundai has partnered with other companies on self-driving cars. The automaker recently announced a $4 billion joint venture with Aptiv to develop the technology. Aptiv is currently running its own autonomous ridesharing pilot in Las Vegas, in partnership with Lyft. Hyundai also has a separate partnership with startup Aurora. The automaker believes the complexity of autonomous-driving tech requires a team effort.
Many companies view ridesharing as the best way to launch self-driving cars. Companies like Lyft and Uber see dollar signs, as autonomous cars don’t need to take breaks and won’t complain about wages. Waymo has already demonstrated the concept with its Waymo One operation in Arizona, and hopes to be the first to offer rides to customers without human backup drivers. Automakers view commercial use as a lower bar than retail sales, as it gives them more control over how cars are used. Pilot programs like BotRide could also help fight public distrust of self-driving cars by introducing more people to the technology.
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