The Oklahoman

Los Angeles to get its first robotaxi test fleet

They are expected to hit the US market this fall

- Russ Mitchell

LOS ANGELES – It’s not uncommon in California’s Bay Area to spot a driverless test car sharing the highway, a whirling lidar array atop its roof. Not so much in Southern California, where little robot car testing has been conducted to date.

That will change soon. Driverless car technology company Motional announced that it will deploy “in the near term” a test fleet of new Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric cars in and around Los Angeles, fitted with its robotaxi technology.

The Boston-based company last month announced a major expansion of its Santa Monica office, including the addition of more autonomous vehicle engineerin­g specialist­s.

Motional is a joint venture of Hyundai Motor Group and motor vehicle parts supplier Aptiv. The Hyundai Ioniq 5 compact electric SUV is a landmark product for the South Korean company, built on a new platform specifically engineered for electric vehicles. It’s due to hit the U.S. market this fall.

Hyundai and Motional are working closely together to integrate hardware – sensors and the car – with a driverless software system. The Ioniq 5 will be fitted with 30 sensors including radar, lidar (which is like radar but uses laser beams in place of radio waves), ultrasound and cameras.

“A lot of people think autonomy is just a software game, but integratio­n with a vehicle is a complex task,” said Motional Chief Executive Karl Iagnemma.

The main reason for Motional’s L.A. expansion, though, is the need to attract scarce technical talent. “When most people think of Los Angeles, they think of Hollywood. I think of engineers,” Iagnemma said. “Some of the best machine learning engineers are in L.A.”

Of course, there are even more of them in Silicon Valley, where Motional is also setting up its first research and developmen­t office. But recruitmen­t of the limited number of machine learning specialist­s is highly competitiv­e.

Motional is recruiting skilled workers from several industries, most prominentl­y from among consumer app creators, “apps that rely on computer vision, on modifying images,” Iagnemma said. He didn’t talk about specific companies, but social media’s Snap would top such a list. Snap’s Santa Monica headquarte­rs is a short drive from Motional’s Southern California base. The company said it plans to increase its L.A.-based workforce to more than 100 employees.

The “great university ecosystem in Southern California” will also be tapped by Motional recruiters, he said.

Motional is already testing cars in Singapore, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh and Boston. In L.A., robotaxi testing will roll out with trained test drivers. The company won’t say how many robot cars it will put on the road. The cars won’t be picking up passengers until the technology is ready and regulators approve a commercial service.

The company has struck a partnershi­p with ride-hailing company Lyft, which also has a similar partnershi­p with Argo AI and Ford. Lyft has said it plans to launch a robotaxi service in 2024 but has offered scant details.

Argo isn’t Motional’s only competitor in driverless vehicle systems. Others include Waymo, Zoox and Cruise.

Asked what special challenges Los Angeles will present to robot car developmen­t, Iagnemma’s answer was unsurprisi­ng: “congestion.”

 ?? HYUNDAI VIA TNS ?? The Hyundai Ioniq 5 compact electric SUV, built on a new platform specifically engineered for electric vehicles, is due to hit the U.S. market this fall.
HYUNDAI VIA TNS The Hyundai Ioniq 5 compact electric SUV, built on a new platform specifically engineered for electric vehicles, is due to hit the U.S. market this fall.

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