Autonomous Electric Shuttles to Begin Service in Ann Arbor

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【Summary】Navya plans to put two, 15-seat shuttles into service by the end of the month to test its new autonomous technology.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    May 28, 2018 9:30 AM PT
Autonomous Electric Shuttles to Begin Service in Ann Arbor

While the majority of automakers and technology companies are testing driverless vehicles in California, Arizona, and Pittsburgh, Michigan has become a prominent site for autonomous testing, as well. While the majority of companies choose to test autonomous vehicles on a state's public roads, Navya is approaching its testing a little different in the Northern state. 

Navya Takes To Ann Arbor To Conduct Its Tests

Navya, the french startup that began testing autonomous shuttles in Las Vegas at the beginning of the year, has started to do the same in Michigan. The company, according to the Detroit Free Press, will begin using electric 15-seat shuttles as part of the University of Michigan's bus service. The vehicles will carry passengers on a small loop in the college's North Campus. 

"Our goal is to reduce congestion in urban areas," said Pierre Bourgin, vehicle developer Navya's general manager for sales. The French company showcased its shuttles' strengths during the Society of Automotive Engineers conference in Detroit. 

The vehicle, as the outlet reports, was silent thanks to its powertrain. But the most interesting part of the vehicle was its autonomous capabilities, which the company showcased using cones and other obstacles. Bourgin then, reportedly, stepped in from of the shuttle to demonstrate its pedestrian safety tech. 

"We're confident the Mcity driverless shuttle will offer a safe transportation option," said Carrie Morton, Mcity deputy director. "We have nearly 18 months' experience operating Navya's shuttle inside our test facility." University of Michigan's Mcity autonomous vehicle research program is in charge of operating the shuttles it purchased from Navya. 

Navya Hopes To Set Up Shop In Michigan

As alluded to earlier, Navya is testing its autonomous vehicles around the world, including Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris and Las Vegas. Now, the brand is looking to get crucial data from Michigan, which is home to frigid temperatures for half of the year. 

While California allows companies to test autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel of the car, Michigan doesn't. So Navya's shuttles will have a safety driver that will be ready to take over if something goes wrong and answer questions any passengers may have. 

The shuttles are expected to run all year, but heavy rain and snow, which are things Michigan gets a lot of, could disable the vehicles' LiDAR sensors. Those are used to help the machines get around obstacles and not run into things. In that situation, the shuttle comes to a complete stops and alerts the driver, who will have to take control of the vehicle. That, interestingly, is done via a joystick. 

"I love seeing people's eyes grow wider as they realize this isn't a concept vehicle. It's real," said Navya sales operations manager Aaron Foster. 

Despite being based out of Lyon, France, Navya's North American headquarters are located in Saline, Mich., which is southwest of Ann Arbor. The automaker, as The Detroit Free Press reports, has a dozen employees there and an assembly building that has plans to make the first United States-made shuttle sometime in the near future.

"We're a French-based startup company, but we see big potential here," said Foster. "We're looking for a permanent home in North America."

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