A new self-driving taxi service is coming to San Jose, CA, from two of Germany’s biggest companies: Mercedes-Benz and Tier 1 auto supplier Bosch. Autonomous S-Class vehicles will ferry passengers between West San Jose and the city’s downtown area, the companies announced Monday.
To be sure, this is not a dynamic car service like some other autonomous taxi pilots. The vehicles will operate on a fixed route along the San Carlos Street and Stevens Creek Boulevard thoroughfares, the companies said. The self-driving cars will feature safety drivers in the front seats to monitor the driving. A select group of passengers will receive access to an app through which they can book rides.
Mercedes-Benz and parent company Daimler have worked on a number of self-driving projects in the past that range from futuristic concepts (like the F 015 or the Smart Vision EQ) to more practical attempts at developing something for the near term (like Daimler’s semi-automated Freightliner truck). But this would be the first time either company has offered anything close to resembling a taxi service.
Last year, Mercedes and Bosch first announced their intention to launch a free self-driving ride-hailing service in the latter half of 2019 — though at the time, the companies were still deciding between S-Class cars and V-Class vans. In choosing S-Class, Mercedes seems to be aiming for more luxury, premium-minded customers with its first autonomous mobility service.
Mercedes-Benz and Bosch aren’t the first to offer rides in semi-autonomous or fully automated cars. Waymo is already shuttling around willing participants in Phoenix, Lyft has been offering rides in Las Vegas, and a startup called Voyage is giving them in a Florida retirement community. Toyota plans on offering rides in its self-driving cars for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Neither company would say how many vehicles it was deploying for the pilot, nor how many customers it hoped to include in the ride-hailing trials. Bosch and Mercedes-Benz have been working together on the software for controlling the vehicle’s movement and management for over two years. Previously, Mercedes said it was relying on a custom version of Nvidia’s autonomous vehicle technology — though there was no mention of the GPU company in today’s announcement.
Mercedes-Benz is one of 65 companies licensed in California to test self-driving cars on public roads. According to its 2018 report to the state’s DMV, the automaker had four vehicles registered for testing, and reported 682.52 disengagements — or instances when the safety driver was either forced to take over or voluntarily took over driving duties from the vehicle — per 1,000 miles.