At a recent training, Orlando Fire Department and Orange County Fire Rescue crews, along with Orlando Police Department officers, got hands-on experience with the vehicles, learning how to enter passenger areas and more.
(TNS) — A man walked directly into the path of a bus in the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Fla., on Wednesday.
The 15-passenger self-driving shuttle came to a halt and let out a loud beep – preventing a collision and turning heads from the firefighters in attendance.
The demonstration was part of a training session meant to teach Orlando’s first repsonders how to handle emergency situations involving Beep autonomous vehicles, soon to hit the roads in the southeast Orlando community.
Beep, an Orlando-based company, plans to introduce the shuttles later this summer.
During Wednesday’s training, Orlando Fire Department and Orange County Fire Rescue crews, along with Orlando Police Department officers, got hands-on experience with the vehicles, learning how to enter the passenger area and manually operate and disable the shuttles’ automated driving system, said Beep CEO Joe Moye.
Orlando joins a number of cities adopting autonomous vehicles, including Gainesville, Jacksonville, Detroit and Las Vegas, after city officials studied the technology for years as a solution to mobility and traffic safety.
Moye said Beep vehicles have a 100% safety record with no previous accidents, and the training is a way to ensure that first responders know how to interact with the system in case of an emergency.
“We just thought it was very important to emphasize the extra steps to ensure safety," Moye said.
District 5 Fire Chief Joe McCluan said he feels very confident about the safety of vehicles. About 75 to 90 people came out over the three-day training period, he said.
He said he anticipates most of the situations rescuers will need to respond to will be medical issues inside the shuttle and he’s glad Beep is working to ensure they know how to respond.
“Life safety is our number one priority,” McCluan said.
While Orlando officials said they are confident in the safety of the vehicles, there have been issues with driverless vehicles in other places, including an Uber autonomous SUV that killed a pedestrian in Arizona.
Moye said most crashes involving self-driving vehicles are a result of human error.
“You can’t protect yourself from a distracted driver,” Moye said. “We’re going to do everything we can to have that safety valve."
Orlando Fire Chief Richard Wales agreed with the idea that autonomous vehicles are a solution to human error in driving. He said OFD has had incidents in which cars ran into fire trucks, and he believes that could only be a result of distracted driving.
“I have to think in those situations we might have been safer with an autonomous vehicle,” Wales said.
The shuttles will start running on a fixed route around Lake Nona later this summer. The final route is currently in permitting with the Orlando Transportation Department, said Juan Santos, senior vice president of brand experience for Tavistock, Lake Nona’s developer.
Eventually Beep wants the shuttles to transport people on a request system, so they can call the shuttles to anywhere in the community, Santos said.
“We’re looking for the best ways to move people around,” Santos said. " The ultimate goal is to connect the entire Lake Nona community."
©2019 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.