Hyundai kicks off autonomous ride-hailing service in Seoul

With two Ioniq 5 RoboRide cars with in-house developed level 4 autonomous driving technology, South Korean carmaker Hyundai has kicked off its first autonomous ride-hailing service in the country’s capital, Seoul. It got a temporary driving permit from the government, provided a safety driver is always on board.

The pilot RoboRide will be the first car-hailing service with autonomous driving vehicles to operate in Gangnam, one of the most congested areas in metropolitan Seoul, Hyundai says. For the logistics, it works with Jin Mobility, a Korean start-up operating the artificial intelligence (AI)-powered car-hailing mobility platform ‘i.M.’.

Three passengers and a redundant driver

After showing the autonomous capabilities of the Ioniq 5 last year, this is the first prudent step in making the in-house developed technology available for the street. The two cars accommodate three passengers, besides the essentially redundant ‘driver’. The mayor of Seoul, Oh Se-hoon, and other officials were the first to try it out.

The carmaker says that the RoboRide pilot service will operate from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., from Monday to Friday, to minimize any possible inconveniences on the road. Initially, it will be offered to Hyundai employees as a demonstration service, to be expanded as a real ride-hailing service for the general public in the future.

Level 4 versus Level 5

An SAE Level-4 autonomous car is considered ‘highly autonomous’, capable of driving in specific environments that can be rather complex, like urban traffic, without a driver to be attentive all the time. The ‘driver’ can work, sleep, or read while the car is driving, but he can take over if he wishes or when the vehicle asks him to. In fact, the driver is entirely redundant.

A vehicle of the highest level – five – can operate independently in all circumstances and doesn’t need a steering wheel anymore. At this stage of the technology, no cars considered Level 5 are actually on the road yet.

Remotely monitored and controlled

According to Hyundai, the RoboRide vehicle will perceive, make decisions, and control its driving status, while its safety driver will only intervene under limited conditions. On top of that, the cars will be monitored remotely constantly by an in-house developed remote vehicle assist system to ensure safety.

“The system monitors autonomous driving status, vehicle, and route, and supports the trip with remote assist functions, such as changing the lane under circumstances where autonomous driving is not feasible.”

Hyundai worked with the Seoul Metropolitan Government to establish a system connecting traffic signals with autonomous vehicles. It has also gathered copious driving data since 2019 by testing autonomous driving in the Gangnam area.

Mercedes Level 3

In Europe, Mercedes was allowed to put SAE Level 3 of autonomous driving into practice as a first. Today most cars offer only Level 2 advanced driver aid systems. The premium car-builder from Stuttgart has won the approval of The German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) to let its customers use the most advanced version of Drive Pilot in well-defined circumstances. That means on highways during traffic jams at a maximum speed of 60 km/h.

In the US, Google-Alphabet daughter Waymo offering driverless taxi rides is considered one of the most advanced. It already started in Phoenix end of 2020 and now has an extended program with a ride-hailing fleet of Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans and Jaguar i-Pace SUVs in this metropolitan area and a pilot project in San Francisco.

Before launching its robot taxis in a new area, Waymo creates its high-definition maps with incredible details, from lane markers to stop signs to curbs and crosswalks. That information is matched with sensor data on the car from several cameras, radar, and LiDAR.

Driverless car stopped by police

Next to Waymo, GM-daughter Cruise is the only company allowed to offer paid robotaxi services as a test in San Fransico. Unpaid rides with or without a ‘safety driver’ onboard are allowed 24/7. A Cruise robot taxi made headlines recently with a video going viral, showing San Francisco police officers trying to pull over a Cruise autonomous car with nobody inside.

The vehicle was driving at night without its headlights, and the police wanted to stop the driver… but nobody was in the car.

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