- Ann Arbor, MI-based May Mobility has deployed a fleet of autonomous shuttles in Detroit to serve 18,000 employees of the property management firm Bedrock, an arm of Quicken Loans. The shuttles are replacing a human-driven bus system.
- The shuttles will run in a roughly 1-mile loop connecting the firm’s office, downtown meeting sites and parking structures. In early stages, attendants will be on the shuttles to assist first-time riders.
- May Mobility will also open an office in Detroit and says that it will expand its vehicle options and offer more on-demand services starting in 2019.
The deployment follows months of data collection on Detroit streets and 15 hours of testing last October. Surprisingly, May Mobility officials told the Detroit News that most of the feedback from those initial tests had to do with amenities like music and cup holders. “It’s exciting we got people past the point of being nervous about being in a self-driving car … but instead focused on comfort,” chief operations officer Alisyn Malek told the newspaper.
Autonomous shuttles are seen as a key bridge to the full deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) — they run on predictable routes on the same streets, so they do not have to deal with significant variability. They can also prepare riders for the driverless experience and act as data collection tools. May Mobility said its environmental sensors will pick up block-by-block data on traffic and hazards, and can offer data to planners on issues like parking and land management.
Autonomous shuttles are already running on the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor and on the streets of Las Vegas. There was a rocky reception to the Vegas shuttles at first, highlighted by an accident with a delivery truck, but shuttle operator Keolis says they’ve been “generally accepted.” Meanwhile, Austin, TX will also test them around downtown transit stops as part of an effort to solve the “first mile, last mile” problem.
Using them as employee shuttles represents another low-risk use of the shuttle technology, especially as they replace human-driven buses. Employees will already be familiar with the route and use of a vehicle — the only change will be the technology.