Hyundai will offer free self-driving rides in Irvine, California

BotRide debuts in the city on November 4th.

A handful of Californians are about to experience self-driving cars first-hand. Hyundai, Via and (appropriately enough) are debuting a driverless ride hailing BotRide service in Irvine on November 4th. A group of "several hundred" residents, including college students, will have free access to autonomous Kona Electric SUVs that will take them between multiple points of interest, using Via's algorithms to optimize the number of passengers without making them walk too far at either end of the trip. will supply the sensor hardware and software to help navigate city streets.

The project isn't meant to research the technology so much as it is the people using it -- this will "study consumer behavior" when interacting with autonomous services, Hyundai's Christopher Chang said. In other words, the automaker will use BotRide to shape its self-driving cars and services around real-world experiences, not just theoretical scenarios.

This isn't as aggressive a rollout as something like Waymo One, which represents full-fledged commercial service with more specific destinations. It's more ambitious than the fixed route shuttles that have been available in a few places, though. As such, it's an indication of how self-driving tech is progressing. While it'll still take a long time before you can hail a robotic ride on a whim, driverless systems are now far enough along that they more closely match the on-demand service you'd expect.