A self-driving shuttle bus ferrying workers in Detroit from a parking garage to their office has become the first autonomous vehicle to ply the roads of America’s automotive capital.
May Mobility, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based startup backed by Toyota and BMW, is deploying a small fleet of six-seat, electric-powered shuttles in downtown Detroit to
transport the employees of Bedrock, the property management company owned by Dan Gilbert. The billionaire also owns Quicken Loans and the Cleveland Cavaliers basketball team.
While more ambitious robo-taxi fleets are on the way from Alphabet Inc.’s Waymo and General Motors Co., many see simple shuttles as a better “baby step” into the autonomous future.
The shuttles repeatedly travel well-worn routes at slow speeds, making them less likely to get into harm’s way. Similar shuttles have been deployed at universities and
airports in Europe. That approach is seen as a low-risk way to introduce robot rides.
“Slow moving, simple routes in non-complex environments is the ideal use case to try to execute autonomy,” said Mike Ramsey, auto analyst for researcher Gartner Inc. “The slower the speed, the less chance of a catastrophic error with people or robots.”
May Mobility, which was founded last year, charges a monthly fee for its shuttle service, which includes mapping, monitoring and maintaining the vehicles. Initially, May Mobility will have attendants riding on board the shuttles “to help orient first-time riders and to monitor the vehicles,” the company said.
“Our partnership with Bedrock shows that our self-driving vehicles can help address today’s most difficult transportation problems,” said Edwin Olson, CEO and co-founder of the company and a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan. “Our technology allows us to provide fully managed transportation services that outperform traditional services on wait time, rider satisfaction and other metrics.”