The trial will begin in Dallas and Pittsburgh this year.
Self-driving technology is constantly improving, but fully autonomous technology is still far from reality. Even Tesla's Full Self-Driving system is only Level 2 autonomy, meaning the driver still needs to be alert and keep their hands on the wheel. However, we could see autonomous robotaxis roaming the streets within the next few years. Later this year, Ford will trial a self-driving ride-hailing service with Lyft in Miami and Austin. Hyundai also aims to unleash driverless Ioniq 5 taxis onto the streets in 2023.
Now, Toyota is joining the robotaxi craze. Autonomous tech company Aurora is working with Toyota to develop a fleet of robotaxis that will hit the streets later this year.
To test the technology, Toyota has built a Sienna minivan prototype designed for autonomous ride-hailing. Dubbed the Toyota S-AM (Sienna Autono-MaaS), the self-driving hybrid prototype will be unleashed onto the streets of Pittsburgh and Dallas as part of a test program over the next six months before expanding into other US cities. Initially, around a dozen Sienna prototypes will be used to test Aurora's self-driving software and sensors currently in development.
"We're combining the deep experience of Toyota's engineering and research teams with our expertise in safely developing a robust autonomous system to create a comfortable, convenient and safe ride experience," Aurora wrote in a blog post.
"Now we're integrating our driver with Toyota's first S-AM vehicles, fresh off of their production line," continues the online post. If testing is successful, Aurora aims to launch its robotaxi service with Toyota and Uber in late 2024. Sienna taxis fitted with Aurora's technology will have dynamic temperature controls, allowing customers to pre-select the temperature of the car when they order a taxi for optimized comfort.
Let's hope the pilot program (which is far from the finished product) is more successful than Toyota's trial for the self-driving e-Pallette shuttle bus that hit a visually impaired athlete at the Paralympic Games earlier this month.