Ann Arbor — The University of Michigan on Friday began testing of self-driving passenger shuttle at its autonomous vehicle testing site Mcity. The automated shuttle could one day be deployed on public roads.
The 15-passenger, all-electric shuttle — called Arma — for the time being will provide fully automated tours of the 32-acre self-driving vehicle testing course on the North Campus of the university. It will support research and allow students a chance to learn from the vehicle.
There is definitely a potential for the shuttle to move on-campus to move students, Carrie Morton, UM Mobility Transformation Center deputy director, said during a media event Friday at Mcity: “This vehicle was designed for a campus environment.”
The $250,000 shuttle is produced by French tech company Navya, which supplied the vehicle as part of a new partnership with the university and testing ground.
“The partnership that we are now entering today with MTC is really important for us,” said Navya CEO Christophe Sapet, whose company has ambitions to enter the United States market as early as next year.
“We have to see what is possible,” he said, adding the company is open to partnering or even merging with an automaker. “We are making some different experimentation.”
Sapet said the company, which has raised $35 million in capital, hopes to establish a North American headquarters and production facility soon. He said Michigan is an option, however cited winter weather conditions not being idle for all-electric vehicles.
The university’s Arma shuttle is the first to be deployed in North America. The company has sold 30 of the shuttles since their introduction in October 2015. They have transported more than 100,000 people, according to Sapet. The largest deployment is for employees at a nuclear power plant in France.
The shuttle on Friday was able to smoothly navigate through the Mcity test course with ease, despite snow on the roads and some unexpected photographers on the urban testing course. Its maximum speed is 28 miles per hour; however, it operates at 151/2 mph.
The shuttles operate with an intricate system that includes GPS programming, eight Lidars, cameras and other sensors. Its batteries are recharged via wireless induction and can last from 5 to 13 hours according to the configuration and the traffic conditions.
Aesthetically, the Armas have a sleek, modern design. The interior includes a 360-degree view out of the vehicle; a set of self-opening and closing doors; and 11 seats.
As part of the partnership, Navya will become an affiliate member of the university’s Mobility Transformation Center, a public-private partnership dedicated to developing and supporting technologies for future connected and autonomous vehicles.
In January, Navya also will join TechLab, an experimental incubator managed by the Michigan Engineer’s Center for Entrepreneurship and Mobility Transformation Center.
The University of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Transportation pooled about $10 million to open Mcity. Construction started in 2014.
Navya is one of more than 60 partners for the facility, including six global automakers.