Motional Expands Autonomous Vehicle Testing Into San Diego

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On any given day, Motional robotaxis may be seen on test drives in numerous cities in the United States, as well as Asia, including Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Santa Monica, and Singapore. In addition to locations such as San Diego where Motional vehicles have driven on the road assessing system performance. This breadth of driving settings ensures that the company’s technology is validated in a variety of environments, including diverse weather conditions, before it is made available to the public.

That’s why the company recently introduced test vehicles to the streets of San Diego, California.

One challenge they told us about was the city’s trolley system. The San Diego Trolley System is one of the United States’ busiest light rail systems, with its brilliant red streetcars well-known to residents, workers, and motorists of seaside Southern California city. But, Motional’s development vehicles hadn’t seen anything like it before.

“Despite the novelty, the AV’s sensors and onboard brain were able to see the trolley, classify it correctly, understand how it was moving, and navigate around it safely, just as the Motional testing team inside the vehicle expected.” the company’s press release says.

The logic that makes Motional AVs work is based on hundreds of thousands of hours testing on public roads in Boston, Pittsburgh, Singapore, and Las Vegas. If this appears to be an odd mix of cities around the world and at home, it’s because it is. Each metropolis is different, with its own set of traffic regulations, climate, and topography.

“Boston is one of the nation’s oldest cities, with narrow streets, tall buildings, and aggressive drivers. Pittsburgh has more than 30 bridges, a hilly terrain, and is home to the infamous ‘Pittsburgh left.’ Singapore is a more modern, global city with a tropical climate. It also observes left-side driving rules.” the company said.

Motional’s expansion into San Diego is significant not just because it’s another city in which the company is testing, but also because California has been viewed as a linchpin in the development of autonomous vehicles. In 2012, the state became the first to pass legislation permitting AVs on its roads. And, since then, it has been a leader in the testing and deployment of these vehicles.

“That our AVs show an ability to quickly adapt in a new environment is good news for future Motional robotaxi passengers. The company isn’t just launching a robotaxi business in one city; it wants to provide a new way of getting around in cities all around the world. By building adaptable AV technology that can scale up quickly, Motional will be able to enter new markets faster and bring driverless benefits to more communities,” Motional said. “But there’s always more for our vehicles to learn. By testing in new and different cities, we can better understand the strengths and limitations of our systems, and improve where needed, to ensure our passengers will have a safe, accessible, dependable ride.”

It’s great to see a company focusing broadly on robotaxi services instead of focusing on doing its best in a small, geofenced area. While there’s certainly merit to that approach, being able to work in a broader variety of situations could help bridge the gap between services like Tesla’s FSD and smaller-based things like Waymo or Cruise.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1984 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba