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Navya: Driverless Public Shuttles before Autonomous Cars

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【Summary】Many tech-savvy consumers envision their first driverless experience to take place in a private car; though according to French startup Navya, such bucket-list goals are more likely to be fulfilled in a self-driving public shuttle.

Michael Cheng    Nov 05, 2018 5:50 AM PT
Navya: Driverless Public Shuttles before Autonomous Cars
author: Michael Cheng   

Autonomous driving platforms are being developed for numerous types of vehicles – from buses and trucks to passenger cars and motorcycles. Many tech-savvy consumers envision their first driverless experience to take place in a private car; though according to French startup Navya, such bucket-list goals are more likely to be fulfilled in a self-driving public shuttle.

The company recently provided eye-opening insights about this conclusion, which are mostly based on consumption trends of new technology, cost analysis and practical applications.

Accessibility and Deployment

So, why autonomous public shuttles? The first reason the startup highlighted was accessibility. Self-driving shuttles and buses have been the focus of several public trials this year, which target highly populated cities. In such locations, many locals rely on public transportation on a daily basis.

Moreover, rides in public shuttles cost significantly lower, compared to purchasing and owning a private vehicle. Some ongoing autonomous pilot programs even offer free rides to locals, making such arrangements difficult to pass up.

"Most people are ready to accept this kind of transportation. We are running these vehicles in a very complicated environment," explained Christophe Sapet, CEO of Navya.

Navya's deployment strategy strongly hinges on the need for efficient transportation in cities. The startup offers compact, electrified driverless shuttles to cities, with an estimated price tag of $300,000 per unit. Local officials could opt to amortize the costs over time, allowing the vehicles to be seamlessly integrated with existing modes of public transportation without blowing up the city's budget.

Additionally, driverless shuttles travel on pre-programmed routes with set pickup locations, along roads with reliable infrastructure. This type of service is easier to setup, compared to an autonomous ride-hailing service in cities with countless side roads, random obstructions and routes.

"It takes years and billions of dollars to build out public transportation systems. But [autonomous shuttle] is easy to deploy," said Sapet.

New Plant, New Driverless Vehicles

At the moment, Navya is operating pilot projects in more than 18 countries across the globe. By next year, it plans to launch new programs in France and Australia. To meet growing demand for the startup's autonomous shuttles, it recently opened a new production plant near Detroit, Michigan. A shuttle bus manufactured at the site is currently being used for a trial in Canada.

Each unit is built by hand, which takes roughly one month to complete, with support from 25 employees at the facility. To date, the startup has produced 100 self-driving shuttles. It has sold 89 units and projects $34.5 million in revenue by the end of the year.

"Autonomous vehicles are the most relevant solution for meeting the challenges that the world's cities face today – that's why our work with the Navya autonomous shuttle is so important," said a representative from the company.

In the self-driving sector, Navya is widely known for its expertise in autonomous shuttles. However, in the future, the business wants to expand to other types of vehicles. The startup is considering the addition of robo-taxis, as well as driverless cargo tractors.

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