Transportation

Las Vegas to Jump Ahead in Driverless Shuttle Race

A 12-month pilot is scheduled to launch on city roads Nov. 8.

by Erin Baldassari, East Bay Times / November 7, 2017
Navya introduced its fully autonomous Navya Shuttle to the U.S. market at MCity, the University of Michigan's simulated city for autonomous testing. navya.tech

(TNS) -- LAS VEGAS — On Wednesday, Las Vegas residents and visitors will get a chance to hop on the country’s first autonomous shuttle to operate on public roads, thanks to a partnership with AAA.

The automotive association bested Bishop Ranch’s autonomous shuttle in the race to become the country’s first driverless shuttle that’s open to the public. The EasyMile shuttle has been trolling the San Ramon office park since March, but has been picking up passengers on an invite-only basis.

The Contra Costa Transportation Authority, which is partnering with Bishop Ranch to pilot the shuttle, received approval from the federal government early last month to drive the shuttle on public roads traversing the 585-acre office park, but it’s still waiting on the California DMV to give the final green light.

In the meantime, AAA’s Northern California chapter, which also includes Nevada and Utah, will kick off its one-year pilot program on Wednesday with the hopes of getting at least 250,000 passengers to hop on board Las Vegas’ eight-person shuttle within the span of 12 months, said John Moreno, a spokesman for AAA Northern California. It’s all part of an effort by the automotive association to carve out a lane for consumers in the development of autonomous vehicle technology, Moreno said.

“(AAA) was born really from the transition from the horse and buggy to the combustion engine,” Moreno said. “What’s happening now with autonomous vehicles, it’s no secret that cars are changing, mobility is changing, how people view transportation is changing.”

“So, we wanted to be at the forefront of that, similar to where we were 100 years ago when the car was coming around, and we wanted to make sure that people had a voice for how this technology and this new product was implemented and operated,” he said.

In mid-October, AAA’s Northern California chapter began a formal partnership with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority’s autonomous vehicle testing site at the former Concord Naval Weapons Base, now called GoMentum Station. There, AAA will be able to test key safety metrics and work with self-driving vehicle operators and manufacturers as the technology is being developed, he said.

In another move, AAA in April launched Gig, a one-way car sharing service, in Oakland and Berkeley. The service allows drivers to take cars on one-way trips, as opposed to parking them in the same place where they picked them up. With fewer young adults buying cars, Moreno said Gig will help AAA gain some insight into how consumers use the shared vehicles.

Similarly, the driverless shuttle in Las Vegas will help them understand how people respond when computers, rather than humans, are behind the wheel. Although it’s unclear if or when these two types of services could be combined into shared autonomous cars, Moreno said either way, the consumer-focused association wants to be ready.

“There’s no crystal ball here at AAA,” he said. “But, the world is definitely preparing for what autonomous vehicles will mean, and AAA is no different.”

©2017 the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.