Dallas Cowboy fans may be some of the first to experience the small electric autonomous shuttles coming to north Texas.
A pilot program to introduce three small driverless shuttles on city streets in Arlington, Texas, was unanimously approved by the city council Aug. 21, allowing the project to serve destinations like AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Park, the Arlington Convention Center, remote parking lots and other areas.
The vehicles will be provided by Drive.ai Inc., of Mountain View, Calif.
“Right now, we are at the beginning of a transportation technology revolution. And we need to be prepared for that, and the technology of autonomous vehicles is far advanced,” Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams told the council Tuesday night.
The mayor stressed that that project, set to launch in October, is needed to test the city’s own infrastructure and offer an opportunity to have the public adjust to the reality of sharing roadways with autonomous vehicles.
Initially, human operators will be on board, ready to take over the driving in the event of problems, said Jim Parajon, deputy city manager for Arlington, adding the vehicles can also be controlled remotely.
The contract with Drive.ai requires that the company share “significant performance data,” with the city, said Parajon, as the council addressed a resident’s concerns related to the deal.
“And as soon as the city receives that, that becomes public information,” said Parajon. That information will be shared with other public agencies.
The initial one-year, $435,000 project will be funded largely through a $343,000 federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) grant. The contract provides the city with the ability to increase the number of vehicles and allows for a one-year extension.
Projects to test small, driverless shuttles traveling up to about 35 mph have also been tested — or intend to be tested — in Las Vegas; Gainesville, Fla.; Columbus, Ohio; Austin, Texas and other regions.
That said, AV technology is not without calls for caution and the enaction of regulations — namely at the federal level — to ensure that the technology and the vehicles are safe.
“The code in these systems is probably the most complex software that we’ve ever seen in transportation systems. This code in autonomous cars, it’s far more complex than what you have in commercial aircraft today,” said Missy Cummings, director of Duke University’s Humans and Autonomy Lab, during an Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety conference call last month.
The call was intended to bring attention to the AV Start Act, a bill pending in the U.S. Senate, which opponents say is too friendly to the auto industry and is bereft of any meaningful safety regulations.
“Unless we can have some guarantee that the technology is at least going to perform under expected conditions — forget about unexpected conditions — until we have that, we should not be putting these cars on public roads,” Cummings added.
The move by officials in Arlington, a city of more than 396,000 residents, tucked between Dallas and Fort Worth, would make it the first city in Texas to offer on-street AV transportation.
“This forward-thinking, bustling city has unique transportation needs, and we plan to provide a last-mile transit solution within a vibrant entertainment district,” said Conway Chen, vice president of business strategy at Drive.ai., in a statement.