UPDATED, Dec. 5, 2018: Smart Columbus and DriveOhio unveiled on Tuesday Ohio's first self-driving shuttle service, Smart Circuit. The soft launch this week will offer free rides to the public in an effort to boost awareness before the vehicles begin full service on Monday, Dec. 10.
"Smart Circuit gives us an opportunity to learn more about self-driving technology in real time as we work to improve our city’s transportation ecosystem,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther in an statement. "Many people in our community still lack access to convenient transportation options, and Smart Circuit is another exciting step in researching and deploying new technologies that have the potential to improve equity and expand access to opportunity in our city."
- Columbus, OH has partnered with May Mobility, an Ann Arbor, MI-based autonomous vehicle (AV) startup, to roll out self-driving shuttles in the city as part of an initiative with Smart Columbus and DriveOhio.
- The all-electric shuttles, which can travel up to 25 mph, are equipped with a panoramic glass roof and a 49-inch digital display that provides riders with system and route information. Each shuttle has six seats and is staffed with a human "fleet attendant" who oversees the operation of the vehicle and can take control at any time.
- To start, the shuttles will run without passengers while the proposed route along the downtown Scioto Mile loop is tested and mapped. The shuttles will begin accepting passengers in December, and the city plans to eventually deploy shuttles along other routes as well.
Columbus has been rapidly innovating since its Smart Columbus plan won the U.S. DOT Smart City Challenge in June 2016, and this new pilot adds to a growing list of steps the city is taking to become a leader in transportation technology and research. In February, the city announced a plan to spend $2 million on a fleet of electric vehicles for city staff, such as code enforcement and police departments, and in July, Smart Columbus released the Concept of Operations for its Connected Vehicle Environment (CVE) pilot.
The shuttles — the first to be deployed in Ohio — are indicative of Columbus' efforts to not only advance self-driving technologies, but to also promote shared mobility. "This pilot will shape future uses of this emerging technology in Columbus and the nation," Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said in a statement. "Residents win when we add more mobility options to our transportation ecosystem — making it easier to get to work, school or local attractions."
Though the project is not a first for May Mobility. The startup also deployed shuttles in downtown Detroit in June, a service which passed 10,000 trips after only 75 days of operation.
Other large cities including Denver and Las Vegas have also rolled out driverless shuttle projects, however not all deployments have been perfect. The Las Vegas shuttle — the country's first autonomous shuttle to operate on public roads — suffered a fender bender just hours after its launch in Nov. 2017. When asked how May Mobility is working to promote safety and ensure such accidents don't happen, Ben Thompson, the company's business development lead, said May Mobility takes a "distinct approach" to how it partners with cities and test its fleets.
"We limit our routes to highly structured environments that include a block-by-block analysis of how to best get from place to place. Our team monitors the environment, adds sensors into the infrastructure, and keeps a fleet attendant in each vehicle. We take redundant measures to ensure safety and reliability," Thompson told Smart Cities Dive in an email.