- Season 2, Episode 6 of Hyundai’s Are We There Yet? podcast takes a deep dive into the story behind the revolutionary new IONIQ 5-based robotaxi.
- Guest Karl Iagnemma, CEO of driverless technology leader Motional and the man behind the robotaxi, tells host Suzi Perry how he plans to make fully autonomous transportation an everyday reality.
- Iagnemma offers unique behind the scenes insight into the robotaxi’s development, from the success of “boring” taxi trips to training the vehicle to deal with all kinds of challenging driving scenarios.
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After the IONIQ 5-based robotaxi proved such a hit at the IAA Mobility show in Munich last summer, Hyundai’s Are We There Yet? podcast caught up with the man overseeing it, Motional CEO Karl Iagnemma, to take a deep dive into the story behind this next-generation development in fully autonomous transportation.
Having first explored autonomous vehicles (AVs) while studying robotics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and then becoming an acclaimed author, founding one of the world’s first AV start-ups, and spearheading the creation of Motional in 2020, Iagnemma’s life story could probably be the subject of an entire podcast in itself. Hearing him talk about Motional’s mission to make driverless vehicles a safe, reliable and accessible reality, however, and you’ll understand why the IONIQ 5-based robotaxi means so much to him.
On the subject of safety alone, Iagnemma speaks with unwavering commitment, telling of how his company has spent hundreds of thousands of hours tuning the ride of the robotaxi to make it feel like it’s being driven by an expert human driver. In a fascinating insight, he even reveals how Motional’s researchers are studying people’s first trips in the robotaxi during testing, to see what effect the robotaxi’s driving behaviours have on their understandable nervousness at being driven by what is essentially a robot on four wheels.
Within their first trip, after just a couple of minutes, those same people, passengers are starting to look at their phone or look out the window. They were bored by the end of the trip. And for us, as an autonomous vehicle technology developer, the greatest compliment you can give to us is to say that trip was really boring.
Based on the all-electric Hyundai IONIQ 5, which launched to worldwide acclaim in 2021, the IONIQ 5-based robotaxi represents the convergence of the two most transformative technologies in mobility: electrification and autonomy. Motional will begin transporting public passengers in it in 2023, through a landmark partnership with ride-hailing firm Lyft.
The robotaxi has more than 30 sensors that provide robust 360-degree perception, high-resolution images, and ultra-long-range detection of objects for safe autonomous operation in diverse driving environments. It will be outfitted with Motional’s proven driverless technology, which includes advanced machine learning systems – trained on decades of real-world data – that enables the vehicle to safely navigate challenging and complex driving situations.
When it comes to training those advanced machine learning systems, Iagnemma tells podcast host Suzi Perry he thought he had seen every challenging driving situation there was to see. But after working on the autonomous robotaxi’s development, he has realised that the human world’s infinite capacity for the weird and wonderful meant that interesting roadside scenarios – and thus new data for robotaxi to learn from – was never too far away.
In addition to its public ride-hail services, Motional also announced it will be using the IONIQ 5 robotaxi to conduct deliveries through a partnership with Uber Eats. Iagnemma spoke with Suzi about this decision:
From a technical perspective, it’s not that different to deliver a person or a pizza. From our business perspective, we want to ensure that our cars are engaged in a revenue generating trip as frequently as possible. We love the idea of partnering with both ride-hail companies and delivery companies to ensure we’re making the most out of our technology.
To find out more about how the IONIQ 5-based robotaxi is getting closer to becoming reality, Season Two, Episode Six of Are We There Yet? is now live and available to listeners on Spotify, Apple, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Acast and other podcast streaming platforms. It is produced by Fresh Air Production.