Come Fall 2017, students at the University of Michigan (U-M) will be riding to class via self-driving shuttles! Nicknamed Arma, two fully automated and electric, 15-passenger shuttles will launch on U-M’s North Campus, transporting students, faculty, and staff between the engineering campus and the North Campus Research Complex on Plymouth Road. The Detroit Free Press emphasizes that the shuttles will be used to study how passengers react to regular vehicles on the road, as a way of gaining perspective on consumer acceptance of autonomous technology.
The shuttles can travel up to 35 mph and are powered by a 33 kilowatt per hour battery pack that takes 5-8 hours to charge. They have seating capacity for nine people, but can fit more if passengers hold onto hand rails. The Arma shuttles use an advanced global positioning system to track information from up to 17 satellites and are accurate to the inch on roads, even proven to be reliable in light rain and snow that characterize much of Michigan’s weather. The driver-less vehicles will drive themselves on University of Michigan roadways, alongside regular cars driven by the public, on a 2 mile circular route, every 10 minutes.
The shuttles have been developed by Mcity, the University of Michigan’s public-private partnership for mobility research, and were manufactured by French firm Navya. Mcity is funded by the university, federal grants, and about 65 automakers and other companies.
Huei Peng, the director of Mcity and a professor of mechanical engineering at U-M, said to the Detroit Free Press, “This first-ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenges and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service and how people interact with it.”
Peng commented that the shuttles are just the latest innovation from Mcity. “The university has a record of innovation in virtually every aspect of mobility...That breadth and depth are some of the reasons why we were so well-positioned to create Mcity and provide a safe, controlled environment for vehicle testing.” Mcity's website also explains to the public how autonomous vehicles operate, discussing radar, light direction, and cameras to gather data and utilize sensors for efficient and safe driving.
Navya Technologies on the other hand, is a 2-year-old company based in Lyon, France. In June, the firm announced its plans to build the Arma shuttles at a new plant in Ann Arbor. Navya is aiming to build 20 vehicles by the end of this year and hopes to sell them to commercial buyers.
Henri Coron, Navya’s vice president for sales, said, “To create a market, we need a vision and a strong partner. The important thing is to create this market in the US.” It should be noted that Arma shuttles are already driven on roads around the world, having been designed for theme parks and large campus-like environments such as the University of Michigan.
The autonomous shuttles will start by running on U-M roads during business hours. The main goal of testing the new shuttles is to monitor consumer interest and acceptance, at no cost to riders. There will be a safety monitor person in the vehicle at all times, along with emergency stop buttons for passengers to use if needed.
The self-driving vehicle industry is fast-growing, and Michigan is continuing to prove that we are a step ahead of the pack. While the future of autonomous is very near, in the current driving environment, drivers must continue to pay attention to traffic rules and take safety precautions when riding in vehicles, including the Arma shuttle. The last thing anyone wants is to be injured in an automobile accident. Staying informed of new car technology developments, including the latest self-driving technology, can offer a better road experience for everyone, now and in the future.
The University of Michigan is preparing to take another leap into the world of self-driving cars with the launch of autonomous shuttles on campus this fall. However, student safety as well as the safety of other drivers on the road, will remain of utmost importance. If you or someone you know has been injured in a motor vehicle crash, contact The Michigan Law Firm, PLLC at 844.4MI.FIRM for a free consultation.