- Uber launches robotaxi service in Las Vegas, at first with a backup driver, ahead of driverless robotaxis later in 2023.
- The ride-hailing app has been working with several autonomous developers to create a Level 4 driverless vehicle that it can operate at scale, without the need for human drivers.
- Uber plans to launch service in Los Angeles at a later date, amid plans by other robotaxi pioneers to launch services in the same city.
Uber's goal of not having to pay a human driver to shuttle passengers around is finally close enough to be seen on the horizon with binoculars. Autonomous tech developer Motional has teamed up with the ride-hailing giant to offer a public robotaxi service in Las Vegas, following in the footsteps of other small-scale Level 4 robotaxi launches by rivals earlier this year.
While the cars themselves—Hyundai Ioniq 5-based robotaxis outfitted by Motional—will have safety drivers behind the wheel, the plan is to go completely driverless starting next year, making it a true Level 4 autonomous experience.
"Today, Motional becomes the first AV company to conduct all-electric autonomous rides on the Uber network for public passengers," Akshay Jaising, Motional's vice president of commercialization, said earlier this month.
The launch of robotaxi service in Las Vegas marks the first rollout of Motional's technology with Uber, which it plans for other large US cities at a later date, including Los Angeles. In fact, the two companies teamed up only a few months ago, amid an admittedly tumultuous time in the fledgling robotaxi industry that saw a number of important launches, including by GM's Cruise, but also the closure of Argo AI, backed by Volkswagen and Ford.
The ultimate goal of Motional and Uber's partnership is offering Level 4 autonomous technology with no driver behind the wheel to Uber's millions of passengers.
"It's a testament to our technology and the power of our partnership with Uber that we're able to go from concept to consumer in such a short time. Las Vegas is the first of many cities in which Motional's AVs will become an everyday transportation option for Uber customers looking for a safe and convenient ride," Jaising added.
Reliable Level 4 technology, scale, and profitability continue to be the three main ingredients in the long-promised (or long-hallucinated) robotaxi business that has already prompted companies to spend billions trying to get rid of gig drivers.
"We're thrilled to take this next step together in Las Vegas, and look forward to continuing to integrate autonomous technologies into the Uber network to grow our business by providing customers with additional reliable, affordable, and effortless transportation and delivery options," said Noah Zych, global head of autonomous mobility and delivery at Uber.
While Level 4 technology is finally nearing reality in some urban environments of just a few square miles, the elements of scale and profitability remain to be tackled. Ultimately, the car, hardware, and software have to be less costly for Uber to use instead of a human driver in a Ford Focus. The element of profitability is still believed by most major players to be far off, which in many cases will mean billions of dollars will need to be fed into the investment shredder to make the Level 4 robotaxi business model work.
Current Uber drivers should not worry too much (unless they live and drive in Las Vegas), as this effort will take quite some time to achieve any sort of market share in other cities like LA. So while robotaxis aren't about to put all the Uber ride-hailing drivers out of work, the month of December 2022 could well be seen in the future as the beginning of the true transition to Level 4 tech for Uber.
Will we see robotaxis finally displace human gig economy drivers working for ride-hailing apps in this decade, or is this future further out? Let us know in the comments below.