Hyundai's self-driving taxis roll out on the streets of South Korea

Automaker Hyundai brought its Level 4 autonomous RoboRide service to the bustling streets of Gangnam in Seoul on Thursday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI
1 of 6 | Automaker Hyundai brought its Level 4 autonomous RoboRide service to the bustling streets of Gangnam in Seoul on Thursday. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

SEOUL, June 9 (UPI) -- Automaker Hyundai and South Korean officials launched a trial service of self-driving taxis in the busy Seoul neighborhood of Gangnam on Thursday, the latest step forward in the country's efforts to make autonomous vehicles an everyday reality.

The new service, called RoboRide, features Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric cars equipped with Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities. The technology allows the taxis to move independently in real-life traffic without the need for human control, although a safety driver will remain in the car.


"A RoboRide vehicle will perceive, make decisions and control its own driving status, while its safety driver will only intervene under limited conditions," Hyundai said in a statement. The carmaker developed the Level 4 technology in-house and partnered with local startup Jin Mobility on a ride-hailing app for the service.

Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon and South Korean Minister of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Won Hee-ryong took the inaugural rides Thursday, driving around 2.1 miles on the streets of the business and commercial hub of Gangnam.

Oh told reporters afterward that the experience was "so natural that it is almost impossible to distinguish the difference between humans driving and self-driving."


He said the trial will provide crucial real-world data for the cutting-edge self-driving technology.

"In complex transportation environments like Gangnam, there are many people who drive unpredictably, such as taxis and delivery motorcycles," Oh said. "After data accumulates about how self-driving cars respond and avoid accidents, we can compare pros and cons accurately and scientifically. So today is the beginning."

Won said Level 4 driving will be fully commercialized in South Korea in 2027 and that autonomous vehicles "will become part of ordinary life everywhere in the country by 2030."

"Gangnam is one of the most congested areas in the world," the minister said during the launch event. "This trial will demonstrate South Korea is on the way to being a leader in autonomous driving."

The RoboRide pilot test will initially run with two cars carrying pre-registered passengers on 30 miles of roads in Gangnam. In August, it will begin full service with four cars, allowing users to hail a ride with a mobile app. Officials said more vehicles will be added to the fleet and the service area will extend to 47 miles of roads over the course of the year.

Seoul launched a commercial driverless shuttle service that runs along a designated route in the western part of the city last November, and plans to start rolling out self-driving buses next year.


The government is investing about $875 million to build out smart infrastructure to help support the development of Level 4 autonomous driving, Won said Thursday.

The country's private sector also is spending big on future mobility. Hyundai announced last month it would invest $50 billion domestically by 2025 on a wide range of new technologies and businesses from electric chargers and vehicles to self-driving cars to urban air mobility.

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