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The NHTSA Orders Self-Driving Shuttle Operator EasyMile to Cease Operations in 10 U.S. States Over Safety Concerns

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【Summary】Self-driving startup EasyMile was ordered to suspend its autonomous shuttle operations in the U.S. today after a passenger was injured last summer after one of the company’s vehicles made a sudden stop. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered French-based EasyMile to suspend its operations while the agency investigates the incident.

FutureCar Staff    Feb 25, 2020 3:45 PM PT
The NHTSA Orders Self-Driving Shuttle Operator EasyMile to Cease Operations in 10 U.S. States Over Safety Concerns
An EasyMile autonomous shuttle.

While developers of self-driving vehicles push for new regulations to allow the deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads, there is pushback from U.S and local regulators over the safety of the nascent driverless technology. 

While incidents with Tesla vehicles operating in Autopilot make headlines, lesser known startups developing autonomous vehicles face the same level of scrutiny, as is the case with French autonomous driving startup EasyMile.

Reuters reports that EasyMile was forced to suspend its autonomous robotaxi operations in the U.S. today after a passenger was injured last summer after one of the company's vehicles made a sudden stop. The company currently operates 16 autonomous shuttles in various pilots.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ordered French-based EasyMile to cease its operations while the agency investigates the incident, in which a male passenger was injured when one the company's self-driving shuttles made a sudden stop.

The incident happened in July 2019 in Utah, when the EasyMile shuttle he was a passenger in came to a sudden stop. The 76-year-old state employee was injured and required medical assistance.

Although the shuttles are fully-autonomous, EasyMile said a human operator is onboard to monitor the vehicle, and can take over manual control if needed.

It was not clear why the shuttle stopped so abruptly, but self-driving vehicles have sensors to detect objects in their path, and the software is programmed to apply the brakes automatically if an object or person is detected. It's also not clear if the human safety operator applied the brakes.

The NHTSA said EasyMile's battery-operated shuttle buses will be suspended in Utah, Texas, Colorado, New Jersey, Florida, Ohio, California and Virginia pending an examination of "safety issues related to both vehicle technology and operations."

NHTSA added it "will continue to work with all affected parties, including EasyMile and local authorities, to evaluate potential future vehicle operations, consistent with applicable legal requirements and public safety." 

Utah official told Utah newspaper the Deseret News that the maximum speed of EasyMile's shuttle was reduced as a precautionary measure after the incident. EasyMile told media outlets it added warning signs to let riders know that the vehicle might make sudden stops. 

EasyMile told the Deseret News "the vehicle stopped abruptly in response to a detected obstacle, as it is programmed to do."

The Florida city of Gainesville began using an EasyMile driverless shuttle in the city's downtown in late January. The shuttles have been operating on a fixed route from downtown Gainesville to the University of Florida campus. The city obtained permission from the NHTSA to operate two autonomous vehicles for six months.

Also this month, the city of Columbus, Ohio, announced deployment of the first public self-driving shuttle in a residential area. The service includes two EasyMile shuttles servicing a 2.9-mile route at speeds of up to 25 mph and arriving at each of four stops about every 12 minutes, the company said. 

The EasyMile shuttles, which are developed in Europe, have enough seating for six passengers with standing room for six additional riders.

EasyMile, founded in 2014, has operations around the world. The company also has offices in Berlin, Germany and Denver, Colorado.

The safety of autonomous vehicles operating on public roads was brought to light after a self-driving Uber vehicle fatally struck a pedestrian in Arizona in March 2018. The case spurred an investigation from the National Highway Safety Board (NHSB). 

The investigation found fault with Uber's software for failing to recognize the pedestrian in the roadway, as well as an inattentive safety driver that failed to apply the brakes.

Since the March 2018 incident, which was the first known fatality involving a self-driving vehicle, other autonomous driving companies, including Uber, have scaled back their operations to reevaluate their autonomous driving software over safety concerns.

Along with several well-publicized fatalities involving Tesla's Autopilot automated driving feature, autonomous driving technology remains under scrutiny from the NHTSA, which could further delay their deployment.

In California for example, over 60 companies working on self-driving vehicles have been granted a permit to test their vehicles on public roads in the state.

resource from: Reuters

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