A new self-driving passenger shuttle made its North American debut at the University of Michigan Mcity testing site last month in the hopes it will eventually be approved for public usage.
The shuttle, named the ARMA, is manufactured by the French company NAVYA Technologies. It made its first appearance in North America in Mcity, the University’s simulated city and testing site for driverless cars, according to a University press release. The shuttle, will be used to provide self-guided tours of the facility.
Mcity was designed and is operated by the University’s Mobility Transformation Center, which partners with auto manufacturers as well as the U.S. and Michigan Departments of Transportation to conduct research on automated and connected vehicles.
Using installed wireless connection channels, "connected" cars will be able to communicate with other cars nearby in order to maximize safety. Since 2013, MTC has already put approximately 3,000 such cars on the streets of Ann Arbor, according to MTC Director Huei Peng.
Peng expects that getting the ARMA on public roads will present more of a challenge, however.
"I think one of the key challenges of driverless vehicles is, first of all, they need to be street-legal, and the ARMA is a vehicle designed by a French company, NAVYA, and they're not necessarily street-legal in the United States," he said. "And in addition to our additional rules that driverless vehicles must follow, when they are trying to provide mobility services to the general public, there are additional qualifications. So at this moment, the NAVYA vehicles cannot yet be operated on a public road in the city, but that's one thing we are trying to achieve.”
However, rather than playing a technological role, MTC is simply assisting NAVYA with the logistics and eventual implementation of putting their self-driving shuttle on public roads, Peng said.
"Our role is not necessarily technology,” he said. “We are not helping them to develop, NAVYA, we are just trying to link them to the data they use. Again, the goal is to deploy this vehicle on the streets of Ann Arbor and understand how it can be part of the public transportation system in the city."
NAVYA is hoping their driverless vehicles will make a splash elsewhere in the United States as well, according to MTC Communications Director Susan Carney.
"The vehicle was introduced at Mcity only on December 9," Carney wrote in an email. "It was shipped to Las Vegas not long after to be used for demonstrations by NAVYA at CES (Consumer Electronics Show).”
When they do end up being put into street usage, however, Peng imagines that they could help to modify bus routes at the University to make them more efficient.
"Sometimes, at the end of the bus route, in many cases the bus is pretty empty,” he said. “In other words, redesign and shorten the bus route and replace part of the route with shuttles.”
Because the shuttles only seat 15, though, Peng thinks the current buses are here to stay.
"Our University bus system serves about 36,000 trips per day, so there are many cases when the bus is pretty full, and we don't believe that replacing one bus with three other shuttles makes any sense," Peng said. "I don't think it makes sense to be replacing the buses with shuttles, but it needs to be integrated."