Driverless buses will soon begin operating in Orlando
Officials Tuesday revealed a glimpse of what could one day be the future of transit in Orlando by unveiling a small driverless bus that soon will maneuver around Lake Nona.
The battery-powered vehicle, run by Beep software, is one of two that are expected to begin operating in southeast Orlando this spring. The shuttles are said to be quiet and smooth riding and can carry a maximum of 15 passengers, reaching speeds of 16 mph.
For several years, city officials have studied autonomous vehicles — including embarking on a $300,000 study of the technology — in hopes of launching it one day within the city.
“We want to be one of the autonomous vehicle central points in all of the United States,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said Tuesday at a media event in Lake Nona.
Beep also announced it would be headquartered in Orlando, with plans to expand across the nation.
In doing so, co-founder Kevin Reid said it would likely have more than 100 employees working there.
“We will actually have employees in our central monitoring facilities here in Lake Nona that will actually be monitoring real time a lot of these shuttles that will be running nationwide,” Reid said.
Orlando joins a growing list of cities that are deploying the technology in various forms, including Jacksonville, Gainesville, Detroit, Las Vegas and Arlington, Texas.
This vehicle is made by French manufacturer Navya and can run up to nine hours. The company’s buses are located in parts of France, Belgium, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia and the U.S.
It’s run both with artificial intelligence and machine learning, which means the system will work better the more it’s operated.
Upon launch, Reid said it likely won’t carry a cost for passengers and will have an interactive smartphone application to operate it. Routes haven’t yet been finalized.
The rounded bus is about 15 feet long and has space for 11 seated passengers, with four more standing.
While Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings were optimistic about the potential of the buses to reduce traffic crashes, there have been issues elsewhere.
In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered a company to halt its service in southwest Florida, where Transdev North America was testing the bus to shuttle children to school.
In Arizona, an Uber autonomous vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian, and a Navya bus was involved in a crash in its first day of testing in Las Vegas. Investigators determined that collision was the fault of a human driver and not the driverless bus, however.
But in Orlando, the appeal of vehicles without drivers has been enticing. The city, Lynx and MetroPlan Orlando, the region’s transportation planning agency, funded a $300,000 study of the buses, to get a sense of how they would work in Central Florida.
Autonomous vehicles are going to prove to be safer than vehicles with drivers
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer
“Autonomous vehicles are going to prove to be safer than vehicles with drivers,” Dyer said.
“Autonomous vehicles can’t be distracted,” he said. “We’ve learned that these vehicles can be operated safely.”
Dyer said the city hoped to one day implement the technology in its downtown Lymmo circulator buses, and Demings said it makes sense for the county’s bustling tourism corridor.
He said the county’s transportation planning is focused on improving transit.
“Central Florida is working to build our existing transit assets,” he said. “We want autonomous vehicles to be a part of that.”
Demings, harkening back to the cartoon The Jetsons, said as a child he used to dream of a future of flying cars, talking on a cell phone and being able to see the other person, or a future of autonomous vehicles.
“Well that time is really now,” he said.
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