- Today, Las Vegas will begin running the country's first autonomous shuttle to operate on public roads.
- The vehicle — which is equipped with LiDAR technology — can carry up to eight passengers on its three-stop, half-mile loop along Fremont Street and Carson Avenue in downtown Las Vegas. Rides currently are free.
- AAA and Keolis partnered for the year-long pilot project that will also assess rider and bystander attitudes toward autonomous vehicles (AVs).
The shuttle uses GPS, cameras and sensors to navigate its way, plus vehicle-to-infrastructure technology that will communicate with sensors on traffic lights. During the pilot program, the shuttles will also carry a "safety driver" even though all the operations will be performed electronically.
The pilot program won't just test the vehicles themselves, but also how people react to driverless vehicles — both those who are riding in one and those who interact with them on the street. AVs thus far have largely been tested in controlled environments, often on portions of college campuses or in "fake cities" where no humans are present. Therefore, citizens haven't yet become accustomed to encountering them.
The few instances of AVs driving on public roads have had mixed responses. For example, a driverless vehicle recently gained attention while driving through a busy part of Arlington, VA, a Washington, D.C. suburb. Then it caused even more of a stir when a local news reporter realized there was indeed a person hidden inside — disguised as a seat — so he could see how people react to AVs. The technology is still so new and unusual for the public that sometimes spotting an AV carries a shock value that stops passersby in their tracks.
Las Vegas is a good location for this pilot because the city already has so many elements that create a "wow" factor and are meant to draw attention. A driverless shuttle might pose less distraction there than in the average city. Plus, with all the tourists from every part of the world, it exposes many different types of people to a technology that they might not experience it in their home city for some time.