Nation’s First Fleet of AV Shuttles Hits Ohio Streets

As transportation companies continue their push to develop reliable autonomous vehicles, the first fleet of driverless mass transit shuttles has officially hit the streets of the United States.

by Erik Bascome, Staten Island Advance / February 7, 2020
Aclima mobile air-quality sensing vehicles will drive down thousands of public streets in the Bay Area in the next two years, gathering pollution data for the Bay Area Air Quality Management District. Submitted Photo/Aclima

(TNS) — As transportation companies continue their push to develop reliable autonomous vehicles, the first fleet of driverless mass transit shuttles has officially hit the streets of the United States.

On Feb. 5, the South Linden neighborhood of Columbus, Ohio, launched the country’s first public residential autonomous shuttle, the Linden LEAP.

The electric-powered, autonomous shuttles connect South Linden residents with resources and transit centers in the rest of the city, while also providing key data points for other cities that are considering implementing similar programs.

“Bringing smart technology and mobility into our neighborhoods is an important tool for sharing success and expanding opportunity,” said Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther. “The launch of the Linden LEAP will help us guide future innovations in the community and beyond, using self-driving technology to help reduce barriers to community resources.”

The brightly colored shuttles will travel along a 2.9-mile route, providing free rides, seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., over the course of the 12-month pilot program.

The autonomous shuttles -- known as the EasyMile EZ10 -- can hold about a dozen passengers and travel for approximately 14 hours on a single charge. The vehicles operate at Level 4 autonomy, meaning the shuttles have full autonomous operational capabilities, though an onboard operator is still able to take control in the event of an error.

“EasyMile has deployed our vehicles and technology around the world, but Columbus is the first location where our autonomous software is powering a fleet-based system in a residential neighborhood," said Sharad Agarwal, senior vice president of EasyMile in North America. "This represents the next revolution in autonomous mobility, and we are thrilled Columbus can showcase this to communities everywhere.”

Special rules for the Linden LEAP shuttles have been implemented by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including vehicle speeds being limited to 25 miles per hour, vehicles being restricted to their designated route and vehicles temporarily ceasing operations during nearby schools’ morning arrival and afternoon dismissal.

Though the maximum allowed speed has been set at 25 miles per hour, the LindenLEAP website states that the shuttles will never travel above 15 miles per hour and will typically travel at approximately 12 miles per hour.

“The Linden LEAP is a pilot program like no other in the nation,” said Columbus City Councilmember Shayla Favor. “For the first time we are inviting the public to use self-driving technology on public roads in a residential neighborhood. Linden is at the forefront of shaping smart mobility in the United States.”

AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES IN NYC?

The rollout of the autonomous mass transit fleet in Ohio could inspire other states to soon follow suit, though the idea of autonomous vehicles on New York City streets has long been a point of contention for city and state officials.

In late 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to allow General Motors and Cruise Automation to begin testing autonomous vehicles on Manhattan streets starting in 2018.

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to save time and save lives, and we are proud to be working with GM and Cruise on the future of this exciting new technology,” Cuomo said at the time. “The spirit of innovation is what defines New York, and we are positioned on the forefront of this emerging industry that has the potential to be the next great technological advance that moves our economy and moves us forward.”

However, the program never came to fruition, with Mayor Bill de Blasio fiercely opposing the deployment of autonomous vehicles onto busy Manhattan streets, citing safety concerns and a lack of coordination between the state and the city’s Department of Transportation and NYPD.

“I really don’t like it,'' de Blasio said at the time. "I think it’s a mistake. I think that it creates a danger. The last thing we wanna do is create a potential new danger, so we’re gonna be very aggressive in saying this is not a good idea unless it is carefully vetted.”

While autonomous vehicles have yet to hit public roads in New York, Optimus Ride, an autonomous vehicle technology company, launched the state’s first self-driving vehicle program this past August in Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre industrial park that’s home to more than 400 businesses, employing more than 10,000 employees.

Currently, six self-driving shuttles are transporting passengers, free of charge, between the recently opened NYC Ferry stop at Dock 72 and Brooklyn Navy Yard’s Cumberland Gate at Flushing Avenue.

The autonomous vehicles are currently confined to operating within the private complex of Brooklyn Navy Yard, with a safety driver and software operator present in the vehicles to ensure that someone can take control if the self-driving software malfunctions.

“Our system will provide access to and experience with autonomy for thousands of people, helping to increase acceptance of and confidence in this new technology, which helps move the overall industry forward," said Dr. Ryan Chin, CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride.

©2020 Staten Island Advance, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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