How do robotaxis work?

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Robotaxis, or autonomous taxis, are vehicles that are designed to navigate and operate without a human driver. They are a form of transportation-as-a-service (TaaS) and are seen as a potential solution to reduce operating costs and increase the popularity of TaaS over individual car ownership1. The operation of robotaxis is based on a combination of technologies including sensors, cameras, Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), radar, and advanced machine learning algorithms. These technologies allow the vehicle to perceive its environment, make decisions, plan a path, and navigate the path safely without human intervention. Robotaxis are typically deployed within a strictly limited area known as the Objective Design Domain (ODD), where they have been extensively trained and tested. This allows their use to be closely monitored by the company that designed them, and they can be immediately pulled off the road in bad weather or if there's another issue2. Several companies are testing robotaxi services, especially in the United States and in China. All tests so far only operate in a geo-fenced area. For instance, in June 2022, Cruise received final approvals to operate a commercial robotaxi service in San Francisco. In April 2022, Chinese companies Baidu and Pony.ai received permits to deploy robotaxis without humans in the driver seat on open roads within a 23 square mile area in the Beijing Economic-Technological Development Area1. Despite the advancements, there are still challenges to overcome. For instance, robotaxis have been reported to block traffic lanes, obstruct buses and streetcars, drive over a fire hose, and enter an active construction zone. These issues have led to debates about how self-driving cars fit into a dense city and how they might reshape life in urban areas4. Moreover, the emergence of robotaxis adds urgency to questions in labor and transportation policy. This technology could make automotive transportation so cheap and easy that people decide to make more trips by car, increasing congestion and undermining public transportation2. Despite these challenges, the robotaxi industry is steadily advancing. Companies like Cruise and Waymo have cleared several major regulatory hurdles, expanded into new markets, and racked up over a million relatively uneventful, truly driverless miles each in major American cities2. In conclusion, robotaxis work by leveraging advanced technologies to operate without a human driver. They are seen as a potential solution to reduce operating costs and increase the popularity of TaaS over individual car ownership. However, there are still challenges to overcome, particularly in terms of safety and the impact on urban life and public transportation.
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