Ann Arbor — Driverless electric shuttles will begin ferrying University of Michigan students and faculty across the North Campus this fall, in a service that may be the first of its kind on a U.S. college campus.
A pair of 15-passenger shuttles made by French-based Navya will run a two-mile circular route that stops at the Robert H. Lurie Engineering Center and the North Campus Research Complex. It’s a portion of the university far less densely populated than the central campus, offering a safer testing opportunity.
Mcity, the university’s research center for autonomous and connected vehicles, has tested a Navya shuttle – called the Arma – since December. The driverless shuttle has provided visitors with tours of the testing facility.
“The first-ever automated shuttle service on a campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenge and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service and how people interact with it,” Huei Peng, a researcher who is Mcity’s director, said in a statement. “The shuttles will augment UM’s busy campus bus service to provide another mobility option.”
Arma shuttles monitor and analyze their environment via light detection and ranging systems, or lidar. It’s a technology that is central to many of the autonomous cars being developed today. Coupled with GPS, the shuttles establish digital maps of their surroundings and their location in them.
The shuttle program will study how passengers and those on the street react to the vehicle as a way to gauge consumer acceptance. To do that, cameras will capture reactions from drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Data collection on usage and ridership will be paired with surveys to gauge the user experience with the goal of creating safer vehicles.
Navya is already providing driverless shuttles on campuses in Singapore and Lausanne, Switzerland.
The two Arma shuttles that begin operating this fall will initially stick to university roads and run only during business hours. Rides will be free and arrive at the stops every 10 minutes. If all goes according to plan, the program will be expanded.
Wednesday’s news comes on the heels of an announcement this week that Navya plans to establish its first U.S. manufacturing operation in southeast Michigan. The company intends to build up to 20 Arma shuttles by the end of 2017 and as many as 100 in 2018.