MCity Launches Driverless Shuttles

Tuesday, June 5, 2018 - 6:21pm

One of the MCity driverless shuttles located on University of Michigan’s North Campus

One of the MCity driverless shuttles located on University of Michigan’s North Campus Buy this photo
Max Kuang/Daily

On Monday, Mcity launched their driverless shuttles on the University of Michigan’s North Campus. The shuttles run Monday through Friday, from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m. The current shuttle encompasses the North Campus Research Complex, a one-mile round trip, with future plans to extend the route down to the Lurie Engineering Center.

According to Mcity’s website, the project is the first of its kind to focus on consumer research of driverless shuttles.

For the automated shuttles to be approved, Mcity complied with various levels of oversight and worked to make sure they were meeting regulations. Mcity worked with Institutional Autonomous Systems Committee to be sure they were meeting the regulations for autonomous vehicles. Mcity also received permission from the Institutional Review Board, as part of their research involves human subjects and their experiences with the shuttles.

Sarah Wentzloff, the program manager for the shuttle launch, commented on the hard work and time put into the project.

“The biggest challenge was being the first," Wentzloff said. "Everyone was learning what had to be done to get us on the road."

The program is currently comprised of two shuttles, capable of holding 11 passengers each. These shuttles are fully electric and were manufactured by the French firm, NAVYA. A shuttle will drive along a prescribed route at 12 miles per hour, using invisible lasers to create a view of its surroundings and a GPS system to keep track of location. The shuttle is able to come to a complete stop quickly if it senses another car, pedestrian or other obstacle obstructing the road. If a car is stopped in front of it for a longer than normal period of time, the shuttle will honk its horn.

Although these shuttles are driverless, a safety conductor is on board at all times with the ability to stop the shuttle in case of emergency. Along with the emergency stop button, a Microsoft Xbox 360 controller can be used by the safety conductor to manually drive the shuttle.

Currently, the safety conductor also is in control of when a shuttle will start moving after coming to a stop. At each intersection at which the shuttle stops, the safety conductor checks if it is safe before telling the shuttle to start moving again. The shuttle does have the capabilities to make this decision itself, but the current procedure was put in place for the initial rollout.

The shuttle shares the road with other vehicles. To track the interaction between other drivers and the shuttle, two onboard cameras are mounted on the outside of the shuttle. One facing backwards and one facing forwards, both cameras record what happens as the shuttle moves along its route. The footage will be used to help inform the Mcity researchers of how drivers behave in response to the shuttle.

There are two other cameras and an audio recording device mounted on the inside of the shuttle. These cameras and audio recording device are used to track riders’ behavior and reactions during their ride.

Wentzloff commented that these recordings were to study how people feel and act around a driverless vehicle.

“What we are really looking for is the user acceptance of this brand-new technology: automated vehicles,” Wentzloff said. “We want to know how we interact with other vehicles, how we interact with bicyclists and other pedestrians and how do they accept us being on the road. Since we are so new in the autonomous vehicle design, looking at how people react can help us drive the design in positive ways.”

Alexander Wood, a doctoral student at the City University of New York who works at the Michigan Center for Integrative Research and Critical Care, expressed an interest for the future development of the autonomous systems.

“The ride was very exciting,” Wood said. “It will be interesting to see what it will be like when they are driving on busier roads.”

Engineering junior Vincent Nagel was hopeful for the improved safety these systems could bring.

“The reaction time can be a lot quicker than humans, so I think that will be safer overall,” Nagel said.

Along with collecting footage of human interaction with the shuttle, a survey is being conducted by J.D. Power to receive written feedback about people’s experiences. The survey data will be given to Mcity industry members and researchers and used alongside the video and audio recorded data to help them learn how people are reacting to the shuttles and to inform decisions in the future.