ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In just a few weeks, two NAVYA autonomous shuttles will begin transporting students and faculty around the University of Michigan’s North Campus.
The shuttles will operate on a 0.75-mile course with a few stops along the way. Each shuttle will hold up to 15 passengers each. That’s 11 seats and standing room space for four more. In addition, a safety person will be on board with a controller to take over if needed.
NAVYA is a French-based startup company that is focused on building shared, focused, electric mobility platforms. All of their vehicles are electric—therefore they are emission-free. Their U.S. headquarters is only a few miles from U-M’s campus in nearby Saline, Mich.
Last week, the company offered free rides to attendees of the SAE WCX (World Congress Experience) at Detroit’s Cobo Center. The shuttles were very quiet and conventient. The only sound I heard were the tires squeaking on the concrete floor inside Cobo.
“It’s a self-driving, SAE Level 4 self-driving shuttle bus,” said Aaron Foster, NAVYA’s Sales Operations Manager. “It was designed for low-speed environments where there is a high frequency of travel. So you can think of universities, cities, corporate campuses. Anywhere where people are taking lots of trips from half of a mile up to two miles we can provide a lot of benefits.”
Please tell me more about how your shuttles are being powered.
“Our vehicles are 100 percent electric,” he answered. “We have a brushless DC motor and we have a lithium-ion battery pack that can power our shuttles for about 9 hours of continuous driving over an average day.”
I heard these shuttles are now operational in downtown Las Vegas.
“Correct. We’re doing a one-year pilot in downtown Las Vegas in the Fremont district. It’s a partnership between the city of Las Vegas, Keyolis and AAA. We’re providing free rides to people on open roads with mixed traffic conditions. We’re also using the connected traffic systems as well.”
How are your shuttles different from other self-driving vehicles being tested today?
“Our vehicles, we’re not taking it from the perspective of individual ownership,” Foster explained. “We’re really seeing this as shared mobility that can be safe, equitable and for the entire population. You’re going to see these on the university campus which would be a perfect example where we can take an underserved area of the campus, where full-sized buses might not be justified from a ridership standpoint, or areas that are too tight to get around. Our vehicles are about a foot shorter than an average minivan.”
Now what happens if someone accidentally steps in front of the shuttle?
“Our vehicles have safety priority zones that are mapped out around it. Essentially by using our LiDar sensors, we’re able to visualize well in advance of the vehicle. So if an obstacle is detected, we can actually slow down and stop for that obstacle to give it the right of way. We’re extremely cautious in the way that we operate and extremely safe because of that.”
Are these shuttles being manufactured here in America?
“Yeah. Starting in July 2017, we established in Saline, Mich. our North American manufacturing headquarters. Previously, all of our vehicles were made in France. Now, we have our second production line here which is going to be specifically for the North American market.”
How has the perception been here at the SAE World Congress Experience?
“The perception has been very warm,” Foster answered. “People are very encouraged to here that this is out on the road. They feel very safe, very controlled in the vehicle. Especially that it’s operating at a low rate of speed below 30 mph. It’s a very palatable way for people to get their first experience in an autonomous vehicle.”
Once again, look for NAVYA autonomous shuttles to begin transporting students and faculty around the University of Michigan’s North Campus beginning in May 2018.
For more information about NAVYA driverless shuttles, visit www.navya.tech.