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An Extraordinarily Ordinary Moment: Motional Operates Driverless Vehicles on Public Roads

February 22, 2021 Karl Iagnemma, President and CEO Las Vegas

Earlier this month, Motional became one of the first companies in the world to operate driverless vehicles on public roads. Our inaugural testing took place in Las Vegas this month and consisted of multiple driverless vehicles safely navigating intersections, unprotected turns, and interactions with other road users, including pedestrians and cyclists.

To an outsider, it was simply another car, correctly following the rules of the road.

But it took extraordinary innovation to engineer those ordinary miles. These miles were built on the bedrock of a million and a half more — and decades of ingenuity, grit, and determination from some of the brightest minds in technology. 

Our Driverless Foundation: More Than a Million Miles Wide

We’re a driverless technology pioneer. Our vehicles have navigated diverse physical and road environments: left-hand and right-hand drive, harsh sun and heavy rain, highways and city streets, controlled and uncontrolled intersections. We launched the world’s first robotaxi pilot, and we operate the longest-standing commercial robotaxi service. We’ve provided more than 100,000 rides to the public, with zero at-fault incidents.

While the roads, conditions, and geographies traveled were diverse, the miles we’ve driven had a common destination — a future of safer roads. A future of time spared, accessibility improved, and lives saved.

Today, we’re one step closer to that future.

Not All Driverless Systems Are Created Equal

As that future comes into clearer view, building public trust in the technology is critical. We know driverless technology can dramatically reduce human error on our roads, and save millions of lives — but for this potential to become reality, you must trust and adopt it.

That’s why we’ve gone the extra mile. Not all driverless systems are created equal — or as safely as ours. Our system is the product of decades of innovation, a relentless commitment to safety and process, extensive experience, and a rigorous external review.

We didn’t take the shortest or fastest route to driverless operation. We took the safe route — and sometimes reaching the figurative crosswalk takes a few extra steps.

  • We proactively sought external review — and earned a first-of-its-kind endorsement. We gave TÜV SÜD, a world-leading independent technical service provider with extensive experience assessing driverless technology, access to our technology, systems, and vehicles, which they rigorously reviewed over 18 months. Their assessment concluded with TÜV SÜD’s first-ever endorsement to operate with an empty driver’s seat. Learn more about our work with TÜV SÜD here.
  • We tested (…and tested and tested). Two years ago, we embarked on our #RoadToDriverless, and set off on a rigorous safety evaluation process. That process went far beyond our external assessment and took hundreds of Motional employees more than 100,000 hours to complete.
  • Throughout this journey, our technology safely interacted with human-driven cars, other autonomous vehicles, pedestrians, cyclists, and other road actors. We navigated busy intersections, unprotected turns, and experienced a wide range of traffic and road conditions. And we safely tested edge cases; on closed courses, we used foam props to test our vehicle against sudden, unexpected actions from pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.
  • We put our technology through its paces, and it passed with flying colors.
  • We built a culture around safety because it is foundational to all we do. 
  • We’ve pioneered an industry-wide practice of data sharing aimed at making all driverless technology safer — not just our own. And where we’ve found standards lacking, we’ve partnered with governments and competitors to address the gaps.
  • We have a sizable and skilled safety team, and we embed safety principles across all functions with purpose, precision, and rigor. Anyone, at any level, at any time, can press our figurative ‘red button’ to report a safety concern.
  • We expanded the state of the art. The last two years are the tip of the iceberg. We’ve been leading driverless technology since its earliest days, both commercially and technologically. We constantly innovate and invent — our nuScenes program started a movement, and our groundbreaking approach to lidar object detection is becoming an industry norm. We’ve operated on five platforms, and we test in two countries and four cities, on closed courses, on public roads, and extensively in simulation.

Robotaxis: From R&D to the Real World

While developing a driverless system that can safely navigate roads is a monumental undertaking, it’s only part of the equation. The technology must have a clear, scalable path to reach passengers — and we’re uniquely positioned to do exactly that

When that service launches, while groundbreaking, it too will be extraordinarily ordinary. Decades of innovation, a million and a half miles of testing, and rigorous safety checks and balances will give way to a ride that’s remarkably unremarkable.

When that happens, we’ll be on the road to saving millions of lives.

We know it’s possible, and we’re not stopping until we get there.