Self-driving shuttles begin running in downtown Detroit

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
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May Mobility is launching a fleet of five autonomous electric shuttles in downtown Detroit on Tuesday for Bedrock employees.

Self-driving shuttles are hitting the streets of Detroit on Tuesday.

Ann Arbor-based May Mobility is launching the first commercial fleet of autonomous vehicles on Michigan's public streets. The shuttles are now running in the city's central business district.

Property management company Bedrock, the real estate arm of Quicken Loans founder Dan Gilbert, is paying May Mobility to provide five six-seat electric vans for its employees. The shuttles will transport the company's employees in a circuit between their offices, parking sites and company events.

The self-driving vehicles are replacing a bus-shuttle route currently driven by humans. They will run from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays along a route about a mile long, which starts in Cadillac Square, passes through Greektown and includes Bates Street, Beaubien Street, East Congress Street and Monroe Avenue. During peak hours, there will be three vehicles running on the route.

May Mobility tested its first generation of shuttles for about 15 hours in October, transporting  employees of Gilbert's Quicken Loans and Rock Ventures. That testing followed months of collecting data on Detroit's downtown streets. 

"We're excited to be getting feedback from the riders that'll be focusing on our product development," said Alisyn Malek, May Mobility's chief operations officer.

Malek said feedback from the October trial was positive and that May Mobility is working to adopt some of the changes riders suggested, such as adding music and cupholders. The new shuttles have air conditioning and heating.

"It's exciting we got people past the point of being nervous about being in a self-driving car," Malek said, "but instead focused on comfort."

In the beginning, at least, attendants will be in the vehicles to assist first-time riders and monitor the shuttles. They will be able to override the system, if necessary.

May Mobility's launch comes as it opens a new office at 601 Franklin St. Combined with Ford Motor Co.'s plans to create a Corktown campus for its autonomous and electric vehicle departments and General Motors Co.'s work in self-driving technology, this further places Detroit at the center of "Autos 2.0."

Earlier this month, automotive supplier Magna announced it was partnering with May Mobility to build its second-generation vehicles, which it is providing to Bedrock. The shuttles are built in Troy, and May Mobility's engineers collaborate with Magna to make them autonomous.

Kevin Bopp, Bedrock vice president of parking and mobility, said the company could look into expanding the service into neighborhoods and other locations as well as offer the shuttle service to Bedrock tenants in the future.

May Mobility said it hopes to offer on-demand services and expand its vehicles and services to more cities next year. 

"The ultimate goal is that we want to provide better transportation services that everyone can use everyday," Malek said. "We think starting with these operations will allow us to start helping the most people in a way that is scalable and help more people gain more access to transportation and mobility."

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