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City Workers to Test Self-Driving Shuttles in California

Municipal employees in Fremont, Calif., can now hop on a self-driving shuttle to get from a train station to city offices. The company running the service, Pony.ai, just got a huge cash infusion from Toyota.

by / February 27, 2020
Pony.ai, a maker of autonomous vehicle technology, received some $400 million in funding from Toyota as it expands pilot project operations in California. Shutterstock/Zapp2Photo

City workers in Fremont, Calif., now have the option of taking a self-driving car from a local train station to city offices as part of a pilot test with a private company.

Pony.ai will be running the service to test its on-demand autonomous service for first-mile/last-mile applications, the city announced on Feb. 24. The company recently raised $462 million, led by a $400 million investment by Toyota.

“So we’re using the city employees as guinea pigs to test out an app-based, on-call — like an Uber service,” said Hans Larsen, Fremont's public works director, during the inaugural Fremont Mobility Summit earlier this month. “A Pony.ai autonomous vehicle will come pick you up, take you to the station. … It’s to test out the operation.”

The employees participating in the pilot already take the train to work — the station is served by the Capital Corridor, an Amtrak route running from Auburn to San Jose, and the Altamont Corridor Express serving cities from Stockton to San Jose — and need to finish their journey to city hall or the Fremont Development Services Center, both of which are about two miles from the train station, said Cheryl Golden, communications manager for Fremont. A human operator will be in the car with the passengers. 

Pony.ai has been involved in other test projects. A three-month pilot in Southern California launched BotRide in November 2019 with a fleet of 10 autonomous Hyundai KONA electric SUVs, providing free service in a part of the city of Irvine. Pony.ai provided the autonomous technology for the vehicles.

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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