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UM bringing driverless shuttles to campus this fall

Jun 21, 2017

The University of Michigan plans to use two fully autonomous vehicles to shuttle students around campus this fall. University officials announced the pilot program at the MCity test facility for autonomous and connected cars.

Two 15-passenger autonomous vehicles will travel along a two-mile loop on Michigan’s North Campus during normal business hours beginning this fall. The vehicles were manufactured by the French autonomous car start-up Navya.  

Researchers have equipped the vehicles with additional cameras to study how drivers and pedestrians respond to seeing autonomous vehicles on the road in the real world.

“We’ll study how passengers react to the vehicle as a way to gauge consumer acceptance of the technology,” said Mcity Director and University of Michigan professor Huei Peng. “Interior and exterior cameras will also be used to capture the reaction and behavior of other road users, in particular, pedestrians and bicyclists.”

Mcity is a public-private partnership led by the University of Michigan, and aimed at speeding up the development of “advanced mobility vehicles and technologies.”

"We'll also track ridership and usage pattern, and survey users about their experience," Peng said. "The data we gather will help researchers to understand how to design safer vehicles and how to operate them more efficiently."

The vehicles use exterior cameras, as well as lidar sensors, which emit invisible beams, to essentially paint a picture of their surrounding environment. They are also equipped with a hyper-accurate version of GPS, and odometers to more precisely determine the vehicles location.

The vehicles will complete their two-mile circuit roughly every ten minutes. University officials say expanding the service beyond normal business hours could also be possible depending on the success of the pilot program. There will be no charge to students, faculty and staff to use the vehicles.

Navya is an affiliate member of Mcity. Mcity researchers have studied the Navya Arma since Navya executives brought an earlier version of the autonomous vehicle to Mcity in December, 2016. It is the French firm’s first foray into the United States. Navya ARMA models are in operation in numerous countries around the world.