In the last two decades, technological progress has not only seen improvements to the quality of atmospheric upper-air observations but also provided the opportunity to design and implement automated systems able to replace measurement procedures typically performed manually. Radiosoundings, which remain one of the primary data sources for weather and climate applications, are still largely performed around the world manually, although increasingly fully automated upper-air observations are used, from urban areas to the remotest locations, which minimize operating costs and challenges in performing radiosounding launches. This analysis presents a first step to demonstrating the reliability of the automatic radiosonde launchers (ARLs) provided by Vaisala, Meteomodem and Meisei. The metadata and datasets collected by a few existing ARLs operated by the Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) Reference Upper-Air Network (GRUAN) certified or candidate sites (Sodankylä, Payerne, Trappes, Potenza) have been investigated and a comparative analysis of the technical performance (i.e. manual versus ARL) is reported. The performance of ARLs is evaluated as being similar or superior to those achieved with the traditional manual launches in terms of percentage of successful launches, balloon burst and ascent speed. For both temperature and relative humidity, the ground-check comparisons showed a negative bias of a few tenths of a degree and % RH, respectively. Two datasets of parallel soundings between manual and ARL-based measurements, using identical sonde models, provided by Sodankylä and Faa'a stations, showed mean differences between the ARL and manual launches smaller than ±0.2 K up to 10 hPa for the temperature profiles. For relative humidity, differences were smaller than 1 % RH for the Sodankylä dataset up to 300 hPa, while they were smaller than 0.7 % RH for Faa'a station. Finally, the observation-minus-background (O–B) mean and root mean square (rms) statistics for German RS92 and RS41 stations, which operate a mix of manual and ARL launch protocols, calculated using the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) forecast model, are very similar, although RS41 shows larger rms(O–B) differences for ARL stations, in particular for temperature and wind. A discussion of the potential next steps proposed by GRUAN community and other parties is provided, with the aim to lay the basis for the elaboration of a strategy to fully demonstrate the value of ARLs and guarantee that the provided products are traceable and suitable for the creation of GRUAN data products.