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FirstGroup Trials Driverless Buses for Mass Transportation in the US

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【Summary】The second phase of the trials, which is being conducted in GoMentum Station, focuses on managing maneuvers in constricted areas with limited space. GoMentum Station is a unique proving grounds for self-driving car developers, Tier 1 suppliers, research groups and automakers.

Michael Cheng    Jul 07, 2017 9:20 AM PT
FirstGroup Trials Driverless Buses for Mass Transportation in the US

Testing for all types of self-driving applications, from commercial trucking to private vehicles is currently in full force. In the arena of autonomous mass transportation, a niche that has seen explosive growth this year, starting with the Navya SAE-L5 driverless, electrified bus, developers are looking to new test sites to deploy their prototypes.

A company that is going out of its way to rack up mileage and experience via international testing facilities is UK-based FirstGroup. Under its US division First Transit, the business is in the process of trialing a driverless pod (a term coined by the establishment, which looks more like a compact bus) at the GoMentum Station. Located in Concord, California, the site is only one out of 10 federally-approved testing sites for autonomous vehicles.

First and Last Mile Solutions

Initially, the self-driving pods will be used to facilitate first and last mile routes. This includes shuttling people between shopping centers, helping students get to class on time at universities and ensuring travelers don't miss their flights at airports when transiting between gates. These locations also don't require the bus to move at fast speeds. With such areas being congested most of the time, there's no reason for the pods to travel quickly.

Furthermore, the units are noticeably smaller than traditional buses. This allows the driverless pods to access covered stops, while providing plenty of room for other cars and pedestrians on the site.

First Transit started its pilot program in 2016. The second phase of the trials, which is being conducted in GoMentum Station, focuses on managing maneuvers in constricted areas with limited space. At the moment, the group is working with two self-driving pods. It plans to add more to the fleet in the near future. The establishment has partnered with EasyMile and the Contra Costa Transportation Authority (CCTA), a public agency formed by Contra Costa voters in 1988, to introduce shared autonomous vehicles (SAV) for public use in the US.

"The partnership with First Transit expands the international reach of GoMentum Station, and will provide a unique opportunity for multi-modal testing with a firm that specializes in transit operations. This will enable us to explore how automated vehicles can complement and enhance existing mobility options," said Randell Iwasaki, Executive Director of CCTA, in a press release.

GoMentum Station

GoMentum Station is a unique proving grounds for self-driving car developers, Tier 1 suppliers, research groups and automakers. The 5,000-hectare site used to be a navy weapons station where supplies were stored and allocated to nearby coastal bases. Developers have access to 20 miles of smooth, paved roads and advanced network infrastructure for connected car platforms.

Groups using the test site's facilities are able to get the best of both worlds. GoMentum Station offers challenging terrain for driverless platforms to master. At the same time, the establishment is easily accessible, being located near the San Francisco Bay Area. Teams could easily test their prototypes during the day at the site and go back to headquarters to analyze data and make updates to their products.

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