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Motional to start nighttime robotaxi rides in Las Vegas

Motional’s autonomous ride-hailing service in Las Vegas is now available at night. The rides will be given in Motional’s IONIQ 5 robotaxi with a safety driver behind the wheel, for now, on certain routes along the Las Vegas Strip. Motional hopes to remove the human operators later this year. 

Since Motional first rolled out its service in August 2022, over 90% of passengers have given the robotaxi rides a five-star rating, according to the company. The robotaxis have driven more than 2 million autonomous miles and conducted over 125,000 public rides without an at-fault accident. 

When the company first started its service in Las Vegas, Motional gave robotaxi exclusively during the daytime so that the company could be sure its technology was safe enough to operate at night. 

According to Jared Miles, a senior technical program manager at Motional, the company’s robotaxis use a sensor suite made up of more than 30 cameras, radars and lidars to navigate the world. Each of these sensors has its own strengths, for example, high-resolution cameras can help the vehicle tell the difference between objects in the vehicle’s path and background structures. 

For night driving, the vehicle needs to rely on sensors that it might not use much during the day, like radars that use radio waves to detect objects through fog or smoke. 

“We were not seeing increases in swerving, hard stops, or other examples of factors that create uncomfortable rides,” Miles said. “It means our tech is ready for this next challenge.”

The company is rolling out three upgrades to its IONIQ 5 robotaxis, the first is night driving. The update also includes the robotaxis now being connected to a Remote Vehicle Assistance (RVA) system which will help Motional’s autonomous vehicles (AVs) make difficult decisions on the road. 

“As advanced as these vehicles are, and as many scenarios, as they can handle, they will undoubtedly find themselves in some driving situation they’ve never experienced before,” Greg Butron, a Motional principal engineer, said. “RVA helps vehicles navigate complex conditions and continue their journey safely.”

The last update that Motional released will allow passengers to control certain functions with their ride-hail app. These include unlocking the vehicle, contacting customer service and controlling the vehicle’s climate control system. On some rides, passengers will be able to preset the cabin temperate and adjust fan speed before they’re picked up by the robotaxi. 

In November 2022, Motional and Lyft launched an autonomous ride-hailing service in Los Angeles. According to Lyft’s research, Californians are more interested in AVs than the rest of the country. This was part of the reason why the companies picked LA as their second city for AV operations. 

Motional has also partnered with other ride-hailing apps to roll out AV services. In October 2022, it signed a 10-year framework agreement with Uber Technologies. The companies plan to offer ride-hailing and delivery services using Motional’s IONIQ 5-based robotaxis. 

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