There are many companies working on driverless vehicles. Tesla, Waymo, GM’s Cruise, Uber, Baidu and Lyft are all focused on designing safe personal vehicles that can drive themselves. However, other companies are focusing their efforts on designing transit options that can move crowds of people on school campuses, civic downtown areas, residential communities, office parks, event spaces and business districts.
Whether called roboshuttles, driverless shuttles, self-driving buses or shared autonomous vehicles, these small, electric, self-driving shuttles are being designed to fill in the gaps in public transit. Cities and transit districts across the U.S. are focusing on leveraging technology to improve transportation options in crowded areas.
Autonomous shuttles travel at about 10 miles per hour. Supporters claim that driverless shuttles are an easy and potentially transformative vehicle for transporting people. Others are more cautious, raising concerns about safety, economic viability, oversight, adding congestion to roadways and eliminating bus driver jobs. There are limited national safety standards for self-driving technologies.
Electric vehicles need to be charged frequently, which can take them out of service for several hours, reducing the number of operating hours the vehicle can be in service and increasing costs. Currently, humans are required to be on board as a backup, which also cuts into the cost savings.
Autonomous shuttles are appealing to city planners and manufacturers alike; in a predictable, controlled environment driverless vehicle are more likely to stay on course and get to the destination without any issues. Many shuttle programs are using geofencing to maintain safety. Geofencing creates an electronic geographic boundary that sends a signal if a mobile device enters or leaves a particular area.
Self-driving shuttles are not without challenges. A Las Vegas autonomous shuttle bus crashed within the first hour of operation. The shuttle collided with a semi-truck. The shuttle was equipped with LiDAR sensors to map out the road, cameras to pick up obstacles and GPS so operators can track it in real-time. However, none of these systems can control other drivers on the road. According to a report from a local Las Vegas NBC affiliate, the truck was making a delivery and backed into the shuttle, which was stopped. The truck driver was cited and no one was hurt. The shuttle drove around the block after the collision, which is what it is programmed to do in this type of situation.
Self-driving car crashes aren’t rare, but are highly publicized, especially in such a high-profile project like the Las Vegas program. Project managers are running all necessary safety checks before putting the shuttle back on the road. The shuttle will soon be returned to the city’s streets, where it will be exposed to the high-traffic environment once again.
A driverless shuttle program is almost ready to be rolled out in Gainesville, Florida. Gainesville residents will be able to travel for free through their town in a driverless shuttle. The city expects three more shuttles will be operational in a three-year pilot program funded through the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). The vehicle is electric-powered and valued around $300,000. It travels at a speed of between 10 and 20 miles per hour (mph). There are six seats inside the shuttle with additional room for six more people to stand. Passengers are able to look out windows as well as charge their mobile devices using USB charging ports. There is also a camera to watch riders that allows video calls with dispatchers in the case of an emergency. The shuttle is programmed for a specific route. In the near future, city planners hope to create an on-demand program for the shuttles. Riders will be able to request the shuttle pick them up using a smartphone app, similar to for-hire vehicle services like Uber or Lyft.
Autonomous shuttles are one way cities are using technology to make traveling easier and safer. Technology is rapidly changing the transportation landscape; expect more changes in the future. Regardless of what the future holds, Lanier Upshaw, Inc. will be there to protect your home, family, vehicles and business. Contact us today to learn more about our innovative insurance solutions.