Autonomous shuttles have made regular appearances at Mcity, the self-driving test track located at the University of Michigan. By the time students return to the Ann Arbor campus for the 2017 fall semester, such driverless buses will have become part of the university’s everyday transportation plan.
As part of a new focus on southeastern Michigan, French vehicle manufacturer NAVYA said Wednesday it will begin hauling students and faculty between two stops on the university’s north campus this fall using two all-electric, driverless shuttles.
This deployment, assuming it happens as announced, will mark one of the first everyday uses of fully autonomous vehicles in a real-world environment, at least in the United States. It will give university researchers and the shuttle company a chance to see how ordinary users interact with driverless vehicles.
“This first ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenges and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service,” said Huei Peng, director of the Mcity test facility, which is created and maintained by a public-private partnership.
Beyond the deployment itself, the Lyon, France, company said it intends to open a new assembly plant somewhere in the Ann Arbor region and begin production of 20 of its ARMA autonomous shuttles by the end of 2017. It will be NAVYA’s first facility in the United States.
NAVYA showcased its shuttles in a previous U.S. demonstration project, carrying regular citizens and tourists last fall in Las Vegas. Other companies, including Local Motors and EasyMile, have been running pilot projects using similar driverless shuttles across the globe.
This first ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project.
—Huei Peng, Mcity Director
While the idea of fully self-driving vehicles usually conjures images of snoozing occupants riding in traditional passenger vehicles, these shuttles are some of the first iterations of fully driverless vehicles to reach consumers and some of the first vehicles to be built with a specific purpose in mind.
Transportation officials envision a future where such autonomous shuttles are used as new mode in public transportation, capable of running defined routes in downtown corridors or within closed campuses. At Michigan, the two shuttles will run in a two-mile geofenced loop that runs between the university’s engineering campus and its North Campus Research Complex located on Plymouth Road.
Mcity researchers will study how passengers react to the vehicle. Exterior cameras will capture the reactions and behaviors of riders and other road users, especially bicyclists and pedestrians. Mcity says it will also track ridership and usage patterns. Riders won’t have to pay to use the ARMA shuttles, and school officials said they’ll consider expanding the service if the shuttles are well received.