By Jennifer Korn, CNN
Ridehailing giant Uber is now offering Las Vegas riders the option on its app to hail a self-driving taxis developed by another company, according to a press release Wednesday. While the autonomous vehicles are currently only available for ride hailing in Las Vegas, there are plans to expand to Los Angeles “at a later date,” according to the release.
The robocars, made by driverless technology company Motional, are sent with two “vehicle operators” behind the wheel to monitor the technology and provide added support to riders. Uber said it plans on launching a fully driverless service with Motional in 2023.
Users requesting a ride will be offered an autonomous vehicle if one is available before the trip is confirmed. If a customer opts in, a self-driing Hyundai Ioniq 5 mid-sized hatchback, modified by Motional, will be sent to pick them up.
Motional has been offering robotaxi services in Las Vegas since 2018 through Uber rival Lyft, though rides before 2020 were offered under parent-company Aptiv.
Uber and Motional first announced their non-exclusive 10-year agreement in October, two years after the ride-hailing company sold off its own self-driving unit, Advanced Technologies Group, to San Francisco-based startup Aurora. The sale came after a a five-year run of developing self-driving vehicles that was marred by litigation and a fatal crash.
Waymo, Google’s self-driving company, sued Uber in February 2017 alleging trade secret and intellectual property theft, with Waymo eventually receiving about $245 million in Uber stock as part of settlement and Uber agreeing not to use proprietary information from Waymo. The ridehailing company suffered another blow to its self-driving program a month later when one of its test vehicles in Tempe, Arizona, struck and killed a pedestrian. An Uber test driver behind the wheel, who was supposed to monitor the vehicle and intervene if needed, was watching a television show on her phone.
Through its partnership with Motional, Uber is attempting to shift its business model away from being solely reliant on its vast fleet of independently contracted drivers, a business model that has posed legal issues for the company in recent years. The Biden administration is currently proposing a new labor rule that could classify millions of these gig workers as employees — a move that would challenge the low-cost labor models behind Silicon Valley heavyweights like Uber.
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CNN’s Matt McFarland and Vanessa Yurkevich contributed to this report.