Motional is expanding its autonomous vehicle operations in LA

Boston-based autonomous vehicle company Motional announced Tuesday that it will expand its west coast operations and begin vehicle testing in the city as it prepares to offer driverless vehicles over the next two years .

Motional will have more than 100 employees upon completion of its expansion in Santa Monica later this year and will roughly double the workforce in the city after moving to larger premises. In 2016, the company opened its first office in Santa Monica.

The company also announced that it will step up its research and development efforts in and around LA and test its new “Robotax” in the region for the first time. Motional says the LA area is important for testing because of the streets with buses and bicycles in certain locations, the heavy traffic, and some complex intersections as the software learns the streets of major cities. And the company says testing in dense and diverse cities is critical to understanding the autonomous vehicle software of different driving conditions.

Tests are also being conducted in Boston, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, and Singapore.

Motional has approval from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to conduct vehicle tests on public roads, but only with a driver behind the wheel.

Motional plans to use the Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric vehicle as the basis for its Robotaxi.

In March, Motional and Hyundai Motor Group agreed on a joint venture deal to use the upcoming Hyundai Ioniq 5 electric vehicle as the basis for their Robotaxi. The small SUVs that will go on sale later this year will be different from those that will be sold to the public. Motional will add Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) and other cameras for a near 360-degree view around the vehicle so the company’s software can function as a taxi.

Bay Area-based Waymo has made similar deals with Jaguar Land Rover and Chrysler’s parent company Stellantis.

Motional will equip a fleet of vehicles for level 4 autonomous capabilities – which means the vehicle can operate without a driver under certain conditions, including as a taxi or rideshare service. In 2020, Motional signed a contract with Lyft to offer users an option for driverless vehicles in some markets starting in 2023.

Despite the deal with Hyundai, which has its US headquarters in Fountain Valley, the AV company’s expansion plans currently do not include any use of the automaker’s California operations. This includes a track and test center in the Mojave Desert.

On Tuesday, Motional also announced that the west coast expansion will include a new office in Milpitas, the first near Silicon Valley and San Francisco.

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