Hyundai is serious about the future of automobiles and driving. It says it will invest $35 billion in autonomy and advanced vehicle technology by 2025. That’s a ton of cash and equivalent to what Volkswagen says it will spend to bring electric cars to market. In an announcement last week, the South Korean automaker said it is partnering with Pony.ai and Via to offer an autonomous shuttle service called BotRide in Irvine, California.
According to AutoBlog, the autonomous ride-sharing service — which is scheduled to begin November 4 — will use at least 10 specially modified Kona Electric cars to provide ride sharing in and around the city. The objective is to study consumer behavior in an autonomous driving environment. (Or they could have just used lab rats!) The cars will have two safety drivers in the cars at all times to take over in case any of the self-driving systems go awry.
Pony.ai is an autonomous driving startup with offices in California and China. Its principal financial backer is Sequoia Capital. It is also partnering with Toyota on autonomous driving technology. Via is a mobility company that focuses on public ride-sharing options rather than personal transportation. It will develop the smartphone applications needed for the autonomous ride-sharing service. The cars will operate within a geofenced area of the city of Irvine.
“The pilot introduces BotRide to several hundred Irvine residents, including college students. The goal is to study consumer behavior in an autonomous ride-sharing environment,” said Christopher Chang, head of Hyundai’s business development, strategy, and technology division. “We are going to learn about ecosystems, where the vehicles travel, and optimize the customer experience.” In a e-mail to CleanTechnica, Daniel Han, manager for advanced product strategy at Hyundai Motor America said,
“Through BotRide, Hyundai is leveraging cutting-edge autonomous vehicle and mobility technologies to introduce a new, safe, and convenient form of transportation to the public. The BotRide pilot represents an important step in the deployment and eventual commercialization of a growing new mobility business.
“In addition to the technology partners powering BotRide, the broader city and community ecosystem have also played an important role in making BotRide possible. The BotRide pilot can serve as an example of how cities and companies can come together to truly enable smart cities and smart transportation systems of the future.”
The choice of the Hyundai Kona Electric is an interesting one. The car has been well received by consumers, but with two safety drivers along for the ride, space for passengers will be at a premium. Perhaps the Kia Niro, a corporate cousin to the Kona that has a bit more rear leg room and greater cargo carrying ability, might have been a better choice. The autonomous ride-sharing competition is heating up and Hyundai wants to make very sure it is well positioned near the front of the field.
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