Self-driving car testing is now so common that people in California don’t even look up when one goes by. Tests have taken place in Arizona and Michigan, too, while New York State recently approved a year-long pilot program to test autonomous vehicles.
But thus far, members of the public have largely been unable to ride in the latest self-driving vehicles. That’s about to change.
This fall, the University of Michigan will become the first campus in the country to offer a self-driving shuttle service. There will be 15 Nayva Arma buses that will take riders between the North Campus Research Complex on the north side of Ann Arbor and the Lurie Engineering Center about a mile away. In all, the loop will be about two miles.
These students, faculty and staff members may be part of a historic shift in the way we get around. And, it could cause some societal disruption.
This past week, Robin Young, co-host of NPR’s Here & Now, talked to Huei Peng, the director of MCity, where the university is conducting its self-driving vehicle research. (I interviewed Peng at MCity for Here & Now last February.)
The self-driving shuttles grow out of the miniature town that Michigan has created so that car and technology companies can test their vehicles and autonomous vehicle features.
How they get around
In the interview with Young, Peng answered some of the questions that many people have had about self-driving vehicles. They operate in two ways. One is by fixed routes, in which the shuttles only travel from point A to point B and back. The other is by GPS, so that the shuttles can figure out alternative routes in case something gets in the way of their programmed route.
That’s vital in Ann Arbor, where construction is taking place all over town, and where accidents and other obstructions are common. To be sure, the shuttles will travel a construction-free route, but high winds and blizzards can always cause havoc.
The university is also concerned about something I’ve worried about. The shuttles just seem too tempting for student mischief. Peng talked about students wanting to cram into a shuttle and set a Guinness World Record. I’ve been concerned that some smart tech geek will figure out how to re-program a shuttle and take it to Chicago. Continue reading