Automated vehicle innovations may lead to widespread mobility breakthroughs for people who use conventional vehicles and services. But vehicle automation can also enable nonconventional vehicles.
Low-speed automated shuttles are one novel vehicle class that the U.S. DOT Volpe Center examined in a recent state-of-the-practice report.
This is what a low-speed automated shuttle looks like
Low-speed automated shuttles are similar to other kinds of automated vehicles, but they are unique in design, operations, and the services they provide. They may hold up to 15 passengers, have a top speed of 25 miles per hour or lower, and typically cruise at about 10 miles per hour.
Unlike most vehicles with automation capabilities on the road today, low-speed automated shuttles operate at a high level of automation. During testing and early deployment, they have an attendant on board to take control if there is an emergency. The current generation of low-speed automated shuttles can provide only limited services in limited conditions.
This is what motivates entities sponsoring low-speed automated shuttle projects
Low-speed automated shuttle projects are sponsored by a range of entities, including government agencies, the private sector, and academia.
In the short term, these entities conduct pilot projects to gather data, spur economic development, and expose the public to the technology. In the long-term, deployers aim to improve road safety and address transportation problems, such as first- and last-mile connections.
There have been more than 260 demos and deployments of low-speed automated shuttles
To explore the state-of-the-practice, a team of automated vehicles experts at the Volpe Center tracked international and domestic demonstrations, pilots, and deployments. They interviewed stakeholders from industry, academia, and the public sector, and they convened deployment communities through a working group.
Here’s some of what the Volpe team found:
- There are more than 260 low-speed automated shuttle demonstrations and pilots—some planned, some ongoing, and some completed—in North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and Africa, as of early August 2018.
- Europe was an early leader of these pilots, with its CityMobil and CityMobil2 projects.
- In 2016 and 2017, some of the early U.S. pilots received vehicles and began testing.
- About two-thirds of pilots and demonstrations in the United States have been announced since 2017—including in Greenville, SC, Arlington, TX, and Las Vegas—indicating growing domestic awareness of these vehicles and interest in deploying them.
Low-speed automated shuttle pilots face barriers, but those barriers can be mitigated
For many people, early-stage low-speed automated shuttle deployments will be their first time encountering automated driving technologies. This first exposure is important, because it may influence broader public acceptance of vehicle automation.
Low-speed automated shuttle technology has developed faster than other kinds of automated transit, but this industry is still in an early phase. The market is small, and many companies in this space have little experience designing and validating systems and producing vehicles, compared to traditional automakers. Low-speed automated shuttles may not be suitable for all environments and services.
When barriers can be anticipated, they can be mitigated. Deployers designing projects and pilots should fully understand technical capabilities and operating environment requirements. They should consider their own goals and develop evaluation metrics. Considering those elements upfront may help deployers match capabilities to requirements, plan for uncertainties, and ensure that data collection supports decision making.
There’s much more to learn about low-speed automated shuttles
There are many research areas left to explore, including infrastructure-based sensors, localization, accessibility, and remote intervention. Understanding low-speed automated vehicle shuttle innovations can lead to successful projects in the future, ensure that public funds are used efficiently, improve awareness and consideration of universal design and accessibility, and inform U.S. DOT engagement.
The Volpe Center performed this work on behalf of the U.S. DOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office.