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Hyundai Kona Electric becomes self-driving BotRide for free ride-hailing service

Hyundai is rolling out its self-driving cars via a new service, available to California residents.

BotRide Hyundai Kona EV
BotRide is at your service.

Watch out, Waymo, because here comes Hyundai. With the Kona Electric as its tool, the South Korean automaker has partnered with Via, a mobility company focused on public transportation systems, and China's Pony.Ai to bring its first self-driving cars to US roads.

The major announcement on Friday marks the automaker's first large-scale push into self-driving cars and an associated ride-hailing service. Members of the Irvine, California, community will be able to hail a self-driving Hyundai Kona EV, named BotRide, for service on public roads. And it's totally free, the automaker said in its announcement.

Hyundai said BotRide's major task will be to help the company understand consumer behavior alongside self-driving cars. The automaker provided the Kona EV as the hardware, so to speak, while Pony.Ai helped Hyundai create the autonomous technology that powers the car. Via, meanwhile, developed the ride-sharing application that Irvine residents can use to hail BotRide on demand. 

This could be you! If you live in Irvine, California, that is.


The pilot program isn't totally open to the public yet, however. The automaker said BotRide is available to "several hundred" locals, including college students in the area. As for where riders can go, Hyundai simply said the pilot area covers "several residential, commercial, and institutional points of interest."

Once riders are inside, Hyundai wants to study how they react with the onboard systems to help fine-tune systems for fully commercialized self-driving cars of the future. Right now, the automaker said BotRide makes these passenger interactions a major priority.

The rollout of Hyundai's first self-driving cars on public roads follows news that parent company, Hyundai Motor Group, partnered with Aptiv to create a new joint-venture company. The goal is to create a self-driving car platform and perfect Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous technologies. Both levels of autonomy don't require any human input.

Hyundai told Roadshow there will still be two human operators inside the BotRide fleet of vehicles to monitor the autonomous systems, and the automaker said the technology rates at Level 4 on the SAE scale of autonomy. The system employs Pony.AI's latest sensor hardware that can handle complex road situations, understands pedestrian traffic and predict behavior accurately, according to the announcement.

The first BotRide vehicles will hit the streets on Nov. 4.

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