Self-Driving Toyota Sienna Taxi: Coming Soon to a Street Near You?

Autonomous driving technology has made giant strides in recent years. Right now, Tesla is at the forefront of the autonomous driving movement with its self-driving system. However, that is not a fully autonomous system, for the driver still needs to be alert when the system is activated. Nonetheless, automakers are getting closer to fully autonomous cars. Many have plans for self-driving robotaxis, such as Volkswagen with its ID. BUZZ electric van. The most recent automaker to develop an autonomous taxi is Toyota, with its self-driving Sienna taxi. 

Toyota and Aurora will test the self-driving Sienna taxi in Pittsburgh, Dallas, and the Bay Area

Front view of white Aurora Toyota Sienna self-driving taxi
Aurora Toyota Sienna Taxi | Aurora

Toyota is collaborating with autonomous technology company Aurora for the self-driving Sienna minivan taxi — or the Toyota S-AM (Sienna Autono-MaaS). Sienna robotaxi rolls off the tongue a little easier than Sienna Autono-MaaS, doesn’t it? 

Over the next six months, Toyota and Aurora will test the Sienna minivan taxi on the streets of Pittsburgh and Dallas. The testing program will later expand to the San Francisco Bay Area and other cities. Aurora has facilities in Pittsburgh and Mountain View, which is in the Bay Area. The primary focus initially for the testing program in these cities is to test the sensors and software for Aurora’s self-driving technology.

“In collaboration with Toyota’s world-class engineering team, we’ve defined the requirements that enable the Toyota S-AM, a Hybrid Electric platform, to be safely operated by the Aurora Driver. As we progress through our Development Program with Toyota, we’ll expand testing of this prototype, refine it through pilots, validate it in accordance with our Safety Case Framework and Toyota’s own safety standards, and expect to launch it on ride-hailing networks at scale.”

– Aurora

When will the self-driving Toyota Sienna taxi be available for Uber and other ride-hailing apps?

Technicians working on a white Aurora Toyota Sienna self-driving taxi
Aurora Toyota Sienna Taxi | Aurora

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Aurora and Toyota target 2024 for when the self-driving Sienna taxi will be greenlighted for use on Uber and other ride-hailing apps. Considering that self-driving technology still has a ways to go before it can be proven to be safe and effective, the 2024 target date may be overly ambitious and unrealistic. 

However, Aurora benefits from its collaboration with Uber, for it bought Uber’s self-driving technology division in December 2020. Also, the partnership with Toyota for the self-driving Sienna taxi is a huge deal for Aurora, for it could pave the way for a successful business model. Previously, Aurora had a similar partnership with Volkswagen for a self-driving taxi, but the two companies parted ways in 2019.

Is it safe to ride a self-driving taxi?

It’s premature to say whether or not a self-driving taxi will be safe. Like any new technology, especially in the automotive industry, self-driving tech needs to be thoroughly tested. It would not be wise to rush a self-driving taxi into use on Uber before it is proven to be safe and effective. It appears that Toyota and Aurora are taking the necessary steps to do this with their testing program.

Also, it’s important to have some perspective about the safeness of self-driving taxis and self-driving cars in general. People have a natural fear of “losing a sense of control” regarding self-driving vehicles. Furthermore, when there are news reports about accidents with self-driving cars, it garners a great deal of negative attention. All it takes is one serious accident with a self-driving vehicle to significantly heighten people’s fearfulness of this new technology.

However, let’s not forget that car accidents with human drivers injure and kill so many people. According to the World Health Organization, 1.3 million people die each year from road traffic accidents. The vast majority of these accidents were caused by human error. If successfully developed and tested, self-driving cars could be a way to drastically reduce road fatalities in the future.

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