Tech | November 23, 2020 2:13 pm

Next Time You Travel to Vegas, There Could Be Driverless Cars on the Road

Hyundai-backed Motional got permission to remove human drivers from its autonomous cars

Motional self driving cars in Vegas
The state of Nevada gave Motional permission to run Level 4 autonomous vehicles without drivers.

If you’ve traveled to Las Vegas in the last couple years and ordered a Lyft from the airport, or as an alternative to strolling the Strip, you’ve been given a choice to opt-in to their self-driving car program. Since 2018, driverless tech company Motional and the ride-hailing service have been operating a fleet of autonomous vehicles in a testing capacity — meaning drivers are still behind the wheel for safety purposes — but the former company is ready to go full robotaxi. 

According to Karl Iagnemma, president and CEO of Motional, which is backed by Hyundai and Aptiv, the company has been given permission from the state of Nevada to remove the drivers from their autonomous vehicles. 

“This has been a landmark year for both the driverless industry and Motional, and we’re quickly approaching another milestone: in the coming months, Motional will go fully driverless on public roads,” Iagnemma wrote in a post on the company’s website.

Does that mean when you throw your post-COVID blowout in Vegas that you’ll be whisked from McCarran Airport to the Bellagio in a driver-free Lyft? Not quite. As the Verge writes, this first venture for Motional’s Level 4 autonomous vehicles won’t be public facing: “The company’s Level 4 vehicles will be kept separate from its ride-hailing program with Lyft, a spokesperson said.”

Of course, offering rides to the public is in the plans, but they’re not even ready for company employees to ride in these autonomous vehicles in downtown Vegas, much less tourists coming from five-cent beer hour at the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar. As Iagnemma says, now that they’ve been given the green light, getting the vehicles ready includes “fully-driverless testing, on closed courses, this year,” implying that public roads in Nevada won’t see them until 2021. 

“Several companies have received permits to deploy Level 4 vehicles in California — including Waymo, Nuro, Zoox, Cruise, and AutoX — though only Nuro has begun testing,” writes the Verge. Nevada is trying to catch up. Now, it’s up to companies like Motional to decide when it’s worth the risk of putting a driverless car in Vegas traffic.