A developer is testing two self-driving shuttles in downtown Detroit with an eye on the future of public transit and autonomous vehicle technology.
Ann Arbor-based May Mobility has partnered with Detroit businessman Dan Gilbert's Bedrock real estate firm to bring the Polaris GEM e6 vehicles to the city as a way of improving access and safety for riders needing transportation downtown. The shuttles were the first commercial autonomous shuttles to carry passengers in the city.
The vehicles are being tested on a pilot route for five nights ending Friday. The vehicles carry up to six people, run at 25 mph and are surrounded with sensors measuring distances from at least 320 feet away.
"The sooner we get people in the car, the faster we're going to learn," said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. "Almost every corner, there's a parking structure or a road that's bigger than it needs to be. We think this sort of transportation system is going to allow us to shrink that. Use that space for green space or another restaurant."
The shuttles communicate with cameras fixed high on light poles that read traffic lights at intersections the vehicles needed to cross. The light detection and ranging system also uses a 3-D map of the route to judge distances from buildings.
"I actually didn't feel I was unsafe," said Jasmine Flemister, one of the shuttles' passengers. "I wasn't wondering if the light changes, is it going to stop."
The partnership with Bedrock will apply to all employees of Gilbert's companies, who can use the service for free when the service launches next summer.
"The first benefit was to learn about new technology firsthand so we could plan for the future," said Kevin Bopp, vice president of parking operations at Bedrock. "What better place to do this than in Detroit. It is the Motor City. We should be leading the charge, not learning about it from other folks."