The Adventures of Riding Aboard a Driverless Shuttle

Las Vegas

For most of us, self-driving vehicles still might seem like some strange novelty from the future. But in two U.S. cities, the future has arrived – in the form of the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE / LINK : https://navya.tech/en/autonom-en/autonom-shuttle/! The future of self-driving transportation is currently cruising around the glittering metropolis of none other than Las Vegas, Nevada.

Leave it to Vegas to deliver the future through such an innovative mode of transportation!

In November of 2017, NAVYA’s AUTONOM SHUTTLE launched in Vegas. Triple AAA of California, Nevada, and Utah partnered with Keolis and Torc Robotics to establish safety criteria for self-driving vehicles, and from their efforts, the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE has joined the familiar neon landscape of Las Vegas.

AAA and Keolis launch nation’s first public self-driving shuttle in downtown Las Vegas. (PRNewsfoto/AAA)

The first question in any potential rider’s mind likely concerns the safety of any self-driving vehicle. For anyone who steps foot on the AUTONOM SHUTTLE of NAVYA, though, they can rest assured. For almost a year, over 24,000+ riders have safely utilized the autonomous shuttle in Las Vegas. Since then, Vegas had become one of the most well-known site where a driverless shuttle is fully operational.

However, as we all know, Vegas never does anything halfway. So, as part of the city’s welcome of the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE, it has also inaugurated the driverless vehicle into its famous culture.

In keeping with Vegas’ tradition of exotic weddings, the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE brought a new option for some lucky couples to celebrate their vows while riding on the AUTONOM SHUTTLE. The NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE’S presence in downtown Las Vegas was actually intended to address directly any hesitation that people in general might feel about the idea of self-driving vehicles. In fact, this inaugural site of the NAVYA’s AUTONOM SHUTTLE in the U.S. not only reassures people about the safety of this mode of transportation, but it also investigated how people respond to this technology. This project looked at how people ride the vehicle, and also, how others interact with it on the roadways. So, while the Vegas AUTONOM SHUTTLE certainly assisted in transporting people around this busy downtown area, one of its primary purposes was actually to familiarize passengers with the presence and experience of a self-driven vehicle in the midst of a city.

University of Michigan – Ann Arbor

Of course, the Las Vegas NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE was primarily focused on people’s experiences riding a self-driving vehicle in a city. By contrast, the other major site where a NAVYA’s AUTONOM SHUTTLE is operational in the U.S. – located in Ann Arbor, Michigan — focuses more on research, and how this technology can benefit a large university campus. The AUTONOM SHUTTLE at the University of Michigan- Ann Arbor focuses around a research project designed to investigate how passengers respond to the shuttle.

NAVYA has partnered with the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transportation Center (MTC) to facilitate the MCity Driverless Shuttle.

The AUTONOM SHUTTLE has exterior cameras to see how other people on the road interact or behave around the AUTONOM SHUTTLE, including cyclists, pedestrians, and other vehicles.

The Michigan NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE itself has room for fifteen passengers – eleven seated and four standing. This vehicle actively gathers data about riding and usage patterns. The larger goal of this project is to investigate how people respond over time, as well as to ensure the safety of the vehicle and streamline its efficiency.

Right now, the MCity Shuttle covers a non-stop route of about 1 mile, concentrated in the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC). This Michigan NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE runs 9am – 3pm, Monday through Friday and it is only dedicated to students, faculty members and staff of the University of Michigan

Whether through the experience of people riding the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE — or getting married on it — the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLES in both Las Vegas and the University of Michigan are part of a larger goal of having people become exposed to – and eventually, accustomed to – the presence of autonomous vehicles in everyday life experiences. They are also both geared to help people understand exactly how safe this mode of transportation is.

The NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE represents the strong history between NAVYA and Velodyne LiDAR, Inc, of working together on self-driven vehicles in order to enhance the safety and convenience of this technology. The AUTONOM SHUTTLE developed, conceived and built by NAVYA uses two Velodyne VLP-16 LiDAR sensors: one on the rear one on the front. The sensors allow the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE to identify and avoid obstacles, as well as position itself more precisely and accurately. The NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE also uses two cameras for recognition, and operates on three levels of redundancy to ensure the highest safety standards and protocols.

Of the 100+ NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLES sold worldwide, to date, these two are the first sites in the United States. They stand at the forefront of NAVYA’s plan to make urban transportation more fluid and easily accessible.

Puck Hi-Res™, Velodyne LiDAR’s groundbreaking VLP-16 Puck

Actual Experiences of Riders

When it comes to people’s attitude towards the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE prior to riding it, they seem to view it as either an opportunity or a challenge. Even in a news broadcast that highlighted the launch of the Vegas NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE in November of 2017, one broadcaster was excited about the possibility of a self-driving vehicle, whereas her co-anchor saw it as a challenge he hoped to conquer, to reassure himself of the safety of this mode of transportation.

So, maybe it’s best to examine the experience from the perspective of people who have actually ridden the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE. Somewhat surprisingly, their overall responses can be summarized as, well, … surprisingly nonchalant.

“I didn’t feel unsafe during the ride”

One blogger — Amanda Zantal-Wiener — rode the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE in January at the 2018 CES Conference (Consumer Electronics Show). Some of her colleagues were concerned about her decision to try it out, and they cautioned her to “be safe.”

But her experience of riding the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE was, well…   rather anticlimactic.

As a frequent traveler on public transportation, she felt the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE was rather like riding a traditional bus – just without a driver. But, in her mind, this monotony was a good thing. The familiarity of the experience should streamline the transition from human-operated public transportation to self-driving vehicles.

“If this is the future of public transit, sign me up!”


Yet another pioneer passenger of the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE – Matt Weinberger — also published his reaction to the experience. Interestingly, he had a similar reaction: boring.

However, like Zantal-Wiener, he felt that boring was “a good thing”, for a bus ride. The biggest excitement he experienced was when a (human-driven) car “blew past a stop sign.” The NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE reacted instantly and allowed the car plenty of room to move past. He was also impressed with the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE’S ability to parallel-park; after all, anyone who can master the feat of parallel parking, autonomous driver or not, is pretty astounding!

These two passengers’ experiences emphasize exactly how advanced the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE is – and as a result, how surprisingly routine and humdrum the experience actually was!

Indeed, other passengers who have ridden the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE have also commented on its capacity to stop – thanks in part to Velodyne’s LiDAR sensors.

“Quiet”

At the SAE World Congress Experience, a novice rider reiterated that his ride on the Shuttle was smooth with a safe feel – as well as “quiet”. He noted that the entire experience was “not really scary at all!”. And as this rider discovered, Velodyne’s LiDAR sensors allow the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE to visualize the physical environment well in advance of the vehicle. This capacity allows the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE to detect obstacles, and react accordingly. It slows down and stops well in advance of an obstacle.

“Exciting”

On one other university campus, also in the Big Ten, the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE made its debut for a couple of days in late April of 2018. At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, students, faculty, and other interested individuals could take a ride. One report stated that the driverless technology was a “sign of the times” and that one group emitted “cheers and laughter” as their unanimous reaction to their ride. One student rider specifically commented during a news broadcast interview about how he was “super pumped to come bright and early to get on the ride, and that it was everything he expected and more.” He noted further that, when a runner cut off the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE, it stopped immediately and smoothly.

Other riders were extremely excited about the possibility of this technology becoming more widespread. One staff member mentioned her anticipation of “the innovation, and the fact that maybe this will be happening in the future.” She was especially excited at the prospect of being able to read while going somewhere, whereas another rider wanted to be able to sleep!

And as one spokesperson for the University commented, “Autonomous vehicles can be an effective means of moving people, as well as taking the world of transportation forward, so this allows people to see how it works, but also get over some of the fear factors, if you will, of being in a vehicle without a driver.”

Wisconsin is actually home to the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds (WiscAV), a site selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as one of ten test sites around the U.S. LINK  to facilitate testing and gather data about technology related to automated vehicles.

At Madison, a project is underway to test a busy thoroughfare for its capacity to integrate autonomous vehicles into existing traffic patterns, via communication between traffic signals and four city-owned vehicles over a 6.2 mile route with five traffic signals.

Like the MCity NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE at the University of Michigan, one goal of Wisconsin’s project is to demonstrate to people at large how connected vehicle technology can be beneficial – and most importantly, safe.

Ultimately, these similar reactions to the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE emphasize that – in this case, at least – what happens in Vegas is not staying there. Instead, the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE is slowly but steadily making its way at various places around the U.S. To date, over 24,000 people have ridden the Vegas NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE alone, as well as 300,000 people worldwide (as of September 2018).

This number is impressive, because it shows how many individuals have been curious enough to use and to test the service and the safety of the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE. However, it is also significant for another reason.  Triple AAA – one of the sponsors of the Vegas NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE – has decided to donate one dollar to the Las Vegas Victims Fund, for every passenger who gets on the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE.

As NAVYA continues its expansion of the NAVYA AUTONOM SHUTTLE in other U.S. based sites, as well as those around the world, this number will only continue to increase. And NAVYA’S other project – the AUTONOM CAB, set for release later in 2018, will also add to the number of people who gain familiarity and exposure to these driverless vehicles.

The future has arrived! And thankfully, as explained from the mouths of experienced riders – what a safe and smooth future it will be!

 

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