Uber launches driverless rides with AV company Motional

Uber is getting back into driverless rides, this time with some outsourced help. On Wednesday, Uber announced that riders now have the option of choosing a self-driving car thanks to its partnership with autonomous vehicle company Motional.

The service has launched in Las Vegas and will soon expand to Los Angeles and other major cities later on. On the Uber app, users can select UberX or Uber Comfort Electric to potentially match with one of Motional’s all-electric IONIQ 5 robotaxis. Users will be prompted to opt-in before confirming the trip.

In the past, Uber offered autonomous rides through its in-house self-driving car unit (Uber ATG). But the company’s journey to this point has been a bumpy one. In 2017, Uber executive Anthony Levandowski was fired for stealing self-driving trade secrets from former employer Google. In 2018, a pedestrian was killed by one of Uber’s self-driving cars (the operator was charged with negligent homicide). After demand for ride-hailing plummeted during the pandemic, Uber sold off its self-driving vehicle unit to Amazon-backed AV company Aurora.

But now, Uber has shifted into gear with its Motional partnership. Earlier this year, Uber Eats began delivering to customers with Motional’s AVs. And now Motional will conduct both deliveries and rides with Uber.

Initially, vehicle operators will be in the car with passengers. But Uber’s goal is to make the service completely driverless in 2023. Notably, this is exactly what Lyft has planned. Uber’s rival is also partnered with Motional and launched driverless rides in Las Vegas at CES in 2018. They also plan to become fully driverless in 2023.