Hyundai Motor Group is partnering with Chinese self-driving startup Pony.ai and US mobility firm Via to launch a commercial ride-hailing service in the city of Irvine in southern California starting in November.

Why it matters: Hyundai is the latest entrant to self-driving vehicles in ride-hailing as global companies take aim at Google’s Waymo, which began trial operations in Arizona a year ago.

  • The South Korean automaker ramped up quickly with the help of Pony.ai, one of only four companies with permission to offer autonomous vehicle (AV) rides to the public in California. The other three are Waymo, AV startup Zoox, and AutoX.

Detail: The pilot, called the BotRide, will be introduced to several hundred Irvine residents in the very center of the city starting Nov. 4, the companies said on Friday.

  • As part of the pilot phase of the program, a fleet of 10 self-driving Hyundai KONA electric crossover vehicles will provide shared, on-demand, ride-sharing services for free until the end of January 2020.
  • Sequoia Capital China-backed Pony.ai built the driverless system in a partnership with the Korean automaker, while mobility service developer Via developed the ride-hailing platform and application with the same name.
  • Via said its algorithms allows multiple riders to share a vehicle in a quick and efficient way, guiding passengers to nearby stops for pick-up and drop-off.
  • Equipped with Pony.ai’s sensor system and self-developed software, the vehicle is expected to detect the surrounding environment, predict where pedestrians will walk, and plan actions accordingly. Two human operators will be on board during the initial trial period.

The Chinese startup battling for robotaxi supremacy

Context: Auto tech companies are stepping up efforts to roll out commercial self-driving taxi service, seen as an important step for the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles because companies can start to recoup the significant costs involved.

  • Waymo in December 2018 rolled out its first autonomous taxi service Waymo One after ferrying a limited pool of volunteers in a fleet of robotaxis in the Phoenix area beginning early 2017.
  • The company in May announced that it had enrolled 1,000 customers, revealing plans to partner with ride-hailing platform Lyft to offer a selected group of users rides in the area around Phoenix.

Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen

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