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Pilot programs for low-speed AVs making quick progress

Voyage low-speed AV parked in a Florida retirement community
A Voyage autonomous taxi parked in The Villages, a Florida retirement community. Photo: Luke Beard/Voyage

Although widespread deployment of autonomous cars and trucks, especially at highway speeds, is still a ways off, low-speed AV fleets could provide the majority of rides within the next decade and reduce vehicle ownership by up to 75% in densely populated areas.

Why it matters: LSAVs can help meet the complex mobility needs of neighborhoods, campuses and business districts, especially by being traveling in mixed traffic — alongside pedestrians, cyclists, scooter riders and more — and facilitating connections to other modes of transit. Cities across the U.S. are looking to these pilot programs to learn whether AVs can earn the consumer confidence to move further onto the road.

The details: Low-speed AVs, which typically travel 10-35 miles per hour, include small robotaxi pods, large shuttles and retrofitted vehicles like golf carts and vans. Early pilot projects have tested just a few of their many potential applications:

  • Commuting: May Mobility’s 6-seat AV shuttle offers rides to Quicken Loans employees in downtown Detroit. The commercial service is approaching 10,000 trips just 8 weeks after its launch.
  • Connecting to sports and entertainment: Following a year of EasyMile off-road rides to AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys), the city of Arlington, Texas, selected Drive.ai to expand its presence in North Texas with an autonomous van service along a geofenced route in its entertainment district.
  • Expanding public transit: In October 2018, the AAA-sponsored Navya circulator in Las Vegas will mark a full year as the first automated public transit service in the U.S. The shuttle crosses 8-intersections on its circular route, has transported thousands of passengers and has had only one crash — when a truck backed into the AV.
  • Getting around a community: Voyage provides an on-demand AV-taxi service for residents of retirement communities in Florida and California. Transdev has launched an AV shuttle that doubles as a school bus at Babcock Ranch.

What to watch: Growth in the low-speed category is likely to accelerate, with expanded production, new vehicles and more trials in the U.S. and globally. Cities will increasingly look to these systems to attract employers, incentivizing transit agencies to improve bus and rail connections. Private campus owners and real estate developers will also explore ways for residents and workers to get around more easily.

Kelley Coyner is a senior fellow at George Mason University and founder and CEO of Mobility e3.

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