Is your company ready for a driverless electric shuttle?

EasyMile's driverless electric shuttle.
EasyMile
EasyMile's driverless electric shuttle.

While partially automated passenger vehicles are gaining notoriety due to a recent string of accidents, slower driverless shuttles are starting to safely (so far) address the last-mile transportation conundrum. Fully automated vehicles are moving people for short distances in many cities globally, collecting data and learning lessons that could benefit the larger automated driving market.

EasyMile, a Toulouse, France-based company that specializes in automated vehicle technology, is one of numerous companies that has developed, or is working on, electric automated shuttles. EasyMile driverless shuttles already transport passengers in cities across Europe and North America, and the company has projects under way or in development in Norway and France, as well as U.S. cities including Gainesville, Florida; San Ramon, California; and Denver.

In May, EasyMile received approval to operate its vehicles on public roads in mixed traffic in California. This is the company’s first such pilot project in the state, according to Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives at EasyMile.

Campuses are ideal testbeds

Isaac said campuses with private roads, such as business parks, hospitals and universities, are ideal operating sites for these driverless shuttles because they don’t require navigating the ever-changing regulatory process needed for public roads. EasyMile’s EZ10 shuttles operate on fixed or on-demand routes and do not require human drivers. In some instances, operators are present to monitor the vehicles, talk to customers and comply with local regulations — even though the vehicles don’t have a steering wheel or brakes.

The all-electric EV10 shuttles can be programmed to open their doors at every stop and complete the route. They can also be programmed to only stop when passengers are detected or provide point-to-point delivery based on passenger requests via a mobile phone app. While the vehicles’ average speed is around 15 mph, they can reach maximum speeds of 25 miles per hour depending on the application.

EasyMile’s U.S. headquarters are within Panasonic’s Peña Station campus near the Denver International Airport. Isaac expected that the planned shuttle service there will transport people between nearby bus and train station stops sometime this summer. "EasyMile is excited to provide the first automated shuttle operation transporting people between a bus and rail station," Isaac said.

Growing crowd pursuing this niche

EasyMile is part of a growing crowd of companies pursuing the burgeoning automated shuttle niche. Ann Arbor, Michigan-based May Mobility operated a pilot with automated vehicles delivering Bedrock employees around a section of downtown Detroit in fall 2017 and plans additional tests in 2018.

Apple, which has invested significantly in automated vehicle technology development, recently was rumored to be in a partnership with Volkswagen to convert shuttles to automated at the company’s headquarters. Luxury EV maker Fisker also has an automated electric shuttle in development known as the Orbit.

A growing number of cities see emissions-free shuttles as a linchpin in improving urban air quality and reducing congestion while also expanding the use of public transit by filling the last-mile gaps and transit deserts. The cities of HoustonPeachtree Corners, Georgia; and Providence, Rhode Island have announced intentions to pilot automated shuttles.

By focusing on low speed, fixed loop trials, automated shuttles are gaining valuable experience while avoiding being in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

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