Hyundai-Aptiv joint venture promises commercial autonomous vehicles by 2022

The Hyundai-Aptiv Autonomous Driving Joint Venture, a collaboration between Hyundai and Aptiv (formerly Delphi) to develop autonomous vehicle technologies, has a new name. It’s now called Motional, a portmanteau of “motion” and “emotional,” and president and CEO Karl Iagnemma says it’s on track to begin testing fully driverless systems in 2020 and supporting robot-taxi and fleet operators in 2022.

“Transportation today, whether we like it or not, has become an emotional decision … we ultimately want to build products that deliver peace of mind when people use them,” Iagnemma told VentureBeat in a phone interview. Iagnemma was formerly the CEO of self-driving startup NuTonomy, which he sold to Delphi in October 2017 for $400 million. “Our mission hasn’t changed: to build safe, reliable, and accessible autonomous vehicles and deploy them in cities around the world. We’ve got the Aptiv dimension, which is technology integration and software development; we’ve got the Hyundai dimension, which is the passenger vehicle OEM; and we’ve got capital. Those are the three ingredients I believe you need to be competitive in the autonomous vehicle space today.”

Motional effectively got its start last September when Hyundai, in a deal worth $4 billion, announced it would invest $1.6 billion and $400 million in R&D and other resources to develop driverless technologies with Dublin-based Aptiv. For a 50% stake in the venture, Aptiv pledged technology, intellectual property, and approximately 700 employees focused on the development of scalable autonomous driving solutions.

Motional is based in Boston, with teams in Pittsburgh, Las Vegas, Santa Monica, and Singapore. The newest office in Seoul will serve as a key technology hub and testing location, according to Iagnemma.

When it comes to immediate deployment and go-to-market plans over the next decade, Iagnemma is a realist. “I fully subscribe to the view that driverless technology will be deployed incrementally over time,” he said. “I think for a while there was a fallacy that it would be a very overnight transition — a step change from human-driven to autonomous anytime, anywhere. But not considered was how this technology will evolve.”

Roughly two years ago, Lyft partnered with Motional to launch a fleet of autonomous BMW 5 series cars on the former’s network in Las Vegas. A product of Aptiv’s mobility and services group, the cars — which have since been grounded as a result of the pandemic — became available to the public beginning May 2018 on an opt-in basis, operating from a command center and 130,000-square-foot maintenance garage.

Prior to the shutdown, the fleet gave Lyft customers over 100,000 rides from more than 3,400 destinations in the Las Vegas area, including restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues, and other high-traffic locations, like the Las Vegas Convention Center and McCarran International Airport. But they weren’t fully driverless in the sense that each vehicle had two operators standing by — one in the driver’s seat and one riding shotgun.

Iagnemma tells VentureBeat he’s encouraged by the results of a report Motional commissioned to study the public’s perception of self-driving vehicles. In an online survey of 1,003 U.S. consumers between July 17 to 21, 19% of respondents said they’re more interested in autonomous vehicles now than they were before the pandemic and more than half (56%) agree that autonomous vehicles can help address mobility access challenges. Moreover, one in four (25%) said they’re “very interested” in experiencing the technology regularly and 62% characterized autonomous vehicles as the way of the future.

That’s in contrast to a poll conducted in February and March by SurveyUSA and Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), which counts among its members Waymo, Cruise, Argo AI, the National Safety Council, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and the National Federation of the Blind. Nearly half (50%) of respondents said they’d “never get in a taxi or ride-share vehicle that was being driven autonomously,” while 21% said they were unsure about the idea and a fifth of respondents said autonomous vehicles would never be safe.

Motional will target “incremental expansion” to allay the fears of a skeptical public, Iagnemma said. “The cities we expand to will have profiles that match the technical readiness of our system, so we will be driven by technology, not by marketing.”

In May, Motional told VentureBeat it was using its driverless vehicles in Las Vegas to deliver food to families in partnership with Delivering with Dignity, a nonprofit providing meals to vulnerable families. When asked whether autonomous delivery might be of commercial interest to Motional, Iagnemma called the use case “interesting” but said it would require rejiggering of the company’s existing technology.

“I’m a big believer in the overall utility of driverless technology,” he said, “but one of my jobs is to ensure we don’t lose focus on the biggest opportunities for us … What’s common in just about every use case is that you have to solve the core hard problems. You’ve got to have a highly reliable perception system, you’ve got to have a very intelligent policy injury decision-making engine … just because you’re moving parcels in your vehicle doesn’t mean you can be any less safe for the surrounding road users, other vehicles, and overall revenue streams.”

Iagnemma also asserted that although Motional hasn’t released a voluntary safety report and isn’t among the first crop of partners in AV TEST, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s public autonomous driving data-sharing program, the company is committed to transparency. He pointed to the performance data and descriptive information Motional provides its partners, including the city of Boston, which receives updates on a quarterly basis. And he noted the company has been open about its work with governments and agencies like Clark County, the City of Las Vegas, and the Regional Transportation Commission.

“I’ve seen really great examples of where disseminating data gives rise to technical progress,” Iagnemma said. “While we’re not participating in programs such as AV TEST today, we’re philosophically along the same lines and understand and appreciate it and are supportive of the impact of sharing certain data sources.”

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