Motional, Aptiv and Hyundai ‘s joint autonomous vehicle venture, today announced the resumption of its self-driving mobility service with Lyft in Las Vegas after the pandemic suspended operations. Starting this week, passengers can ride new Motional-branded robotic taxis, and Motional says it will emphasize safety and security measures to keep the fleet sanitized.
Some analysts expect that the pandemic would hasten the implementation of autonomous technology for transportation. Driverless cars will arguably mitigate the risk of transmitting disease, despite the need for disinfection. But polls are mixed, with one from Automated Vehicle Education Partners showing that almost three out of four Americans think that autonomous vehicles are not ready for prime time. Unsurprisingly, Motional disagrees with this argument himself. The company reports that one-fifth of its Consumer Mobility Survey respondents are “more involved” in autonomous vehicles than they were before the pandemic.
The Motional program is a continuation of Lyft’s two-year – old collaboration to deploy a fleet of autonomous vehicles on Lyft’s ride-sharing network with Aptiv (formerly Delphi). The robo-taxis was previously a feature of Aptiv ‘s internal mobility and services division and was made available on an opt-in basis to the Las Vegas public in May 2018. Over 3,400 destinations were serviced at their height by the BMW 5 series cars fitted with lidar sensors, radars, and cameras and had provided 100,000 passenger rides as of February 2020.
Motional ‘s program is not yet completely autonomous, unlike the Waymo One program in Phoenix , Arizona. During any ride, security drivers are behind the wheel, and vehicles in parking lots and hotel pick-up areas are expected to be in manual mode. But this is seen as a valuable experiment by Lyft, which recently started crowdsourcing driver data to train its autonomous vehicle systems.
The drivers that Motional hires, of course, might see it differently. Waymo and Cruise drivers continue to face obstacles throughout the pandemic recently outlined by The Verge, including being ordered to operate in suffocating conditions triggered by wildfires and new levels since COVID-19 infection rates were reached. Autonomous vehicle research typically requires two backup drivers, one to track driving and the other to keep an eye on data streams, and drivers have expressed concerns for an extended period of time regarding sharing a vehicle with a partner.
Motional and Lyft, which in June resumed operating a portion of their own autonomous vehicles on public roads, state they would comply with the U.S. Guidelines for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC) and the World Health Organization and consult with local governments to determine whether to postpone further research.
Operators must ensure that they are free of COVID-19 symptoms before each shift via a self-assessment and have not been knowingly exposed to contaminated individuals or areas, “Motional VP Gretchen Effgen told VentureBeat via email.” Before each shift. When in the car, operators must wear a mask with hand sanitizer, gloves, and sanitizing wipes at all times available to them. Passengers may be asked to check before riding that they are not positive for or symptomatic of COVID-19 and have not knowingly been exposed to any person with or displaying COVID-19 symptoms. They are also allowed while in the vehicle to wear a mask. In addition, a transparent partition between the front and rear seats is now included in our cars.
All high-touch areas in Motional ‘s vehicles will, according to the company, be sanitized at the beginning of each move. Drivers will sanitize high-touch passenger areas between each trip, and at the end of each day, the vehicles will be completely washed down and sanitized. “In keeping with these guidelines, we continue to review the guidelines provided by health experts and state and local authorities and will make any required changes to our service,” Effgen added.
Lyft has been requiring riders and drivers to wear masks since May and to complete a health certification program, including ensuring that they do not exhibit symptoms associated with the novel coronavirus before each journey. Passengers are often instructed, where possible, to keep the windows open and not to sit in the front seat of the vehicle.
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