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Daniel Granados, MFin '20, catches a ride home on a BotRide, an autonomous vehicle. • Ricky Xu

Merage School Students Ride in Self-Driving Cars

November 05, 2019 • By Xanat Hernandez

Students at the UCI Paul Merage School of Business can take a self-driving car to class. They were among the first 50 riders to try BotRide—a free robotaxi service developed by Hyundai, Pony.ai and Via.

A fleet of ten self-driving Hyundai Kona SUVs have been shuttling students to school and other “points of interest” since the pre-pilot phase launched Oct. 15. As of Nov. 4, the pilot is open to the public and the UCI community at large.

 As BotRide ambassadors, Merage School students are analyzing key features of the business case such as rider verification and booking. After their free rides, students answer a survey sent to them via text message regarding their experience. Some students will also participate in focus groups designed to improve the service.

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Student Daniel Granados leaves campus on a BotRide

“The collaboration with Hyundai is an opportunity for our school and students to be on the forefront of digital transformation,” said Director of External Relations Nick Shaffer.  “As we prepare our students to be leaders in the digitally driven world, this immersive experience allows them to gain first-hand insight into how technology is disrupting the business landscape.”

Participants can catch rides to 13 different locations within the city of Irvine including the UCI bus station, Irvine City Hall and Culver Plaza using an app designed by Via.  Two safety pilots sit in the front seats, ready to take control of the vehicle in case of an emergency.

“We are 100% confident in our solution,” said Daniel Han, manager of advanced product strategy at Hyundai, during an ambassador orientation. “But we’re interested in testing the business case.” Han, a UCI alumnus, says that college students bring added value to the pilot, as many of them may not have their own vehicle.

Daniel Granados, MFin ’20, has used a BotRide over ten times and enjoys the convenience of the BotRide service. With two stops close to school and another two near his home, he’s been commuting to school using the self-driving cars.

Granados hailing his ride in the Merage School courtyard
Granados hailing his ride at the Merage School courtyard

Granados described his initial experience as jarring, but has quickly adapted to the driver-less experience: “When you use a ride-sharing service or a taxi, you’re already putting your life in other people’s hands, so putting it in a machine’s is no different,” Granados argued.

The BotRide service is available Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. The BotRide may pick up more than one passenger on the way to its destination. However, the system does not allow underage riders or riders that have not completed the registration process to try the service.

Gaia Meda, MFin ’20, has already identified opportunities for improving the BotRide service. “But if it was already working perfectly, there would be no need for us to test it,” she said.

Sign up to be a rider on the BotRide website.