- Autonomous shuttle service will begin in the spring in Lake Nona, a small community within the city of Orlando, FL. The vehicle testing and pilot deployment will be led by a new Florida-based mobility company, Beep.
- The shuttles, made by French manufacturer NAVYA, will be all-electric and hold up to 15 people and operate on fixed routes within the smart community. They will travel at speeds up to 16 miles per hour and will have a dedicated backup operator on board.
- “Bringing the first all-electric autonomous shuttles to Central Florida is a defining moment for the future of transportation in our region and will help position Orange County as a place to demonstrate new, innovative technology," Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in a statement.
Launching the service only in Lake Nona, a smart community not far from Orlando International Airport, creates natural parameters for the autonomous shuttle pilot program. Operating within a set boundary with low vehicle speeds is far easier to test a program's feasibility than in high-traffic, high-speed areas.
Small, constrained autonomous vehicle (AV) pilots set up operators for greater success to demonstrate safe operations. Strong safety records help to build trust in AVs at a time when recent studies indicate consumer safety perceptions are a major barrier to AV industry growth. Public trust issues grew after last year's deadly Uber AV accident in Tempe, AZ. That AV had a safety backup operator on board at the time but the person was streaming video instead of watching the road and the vehicle.
Beep's new arrival — and the fact that it is first to the community — means it lacks evidence of a strong safety record. At least for the short term, the company plans to work within planned communities and low-speed environments on defined routes. Autonomous shuttles are becoming increasingly used in cities across the United States, including in the likes of Columbus, OH, Providence, RI, Denver and Las Vegas, while the University of South Florida is carrying out its own trials.