Mcity Introduces Driverless Shuttle Service

The University of Michigan will add a driverless shuttle to its student transportation fleet.

UMich will begin running a driverless shuttle beginning in the fall. (Image courtesy of The University of Michigan.)

UMich will begin running a driverless shuttle beginning in the fall. (Image courtesy of The University of Michigan.)

Over the past few years, the University of Michigan has been one of the most ambitious institutions pursuing the driverless car revolution. It makes sense: Michigan is home to the “Big Three” automakers and has been a locus of automotive design since the beginning of the 20th century. It follows that the state’s flagship university would have an interest in automotive engineering research.

And how has the University of Michigan delivered? Well, this fall, the north part of the Ann Arbor campus will be home to two fully automated, 15-passenger driverless shuttles that will taxi students, faculty and staff along a two mile non-stop route between the Lurie Engineering Center and the university’s North Campus Research Complex. The shuttle is the culmination of years of research at the University’s Mcity autonomous car research project.

Both shuttles were built by the French auto firm Navya Technology, and will use LIDAR and GPS systems to determine where they are on campus, and what objects make up their surroundings. The shuttles will also be outfitted with on-board cameras and Wi-Fi to capture data created during each pass between the two campus centers.

But is this driverless shuttle just a stunt, or a high tech carrot to lure nerds to the engineering program? Not so, says Huei Peng, director of Mcity and professor of mechanical engineering at U-M.

“This first-ever automated shuttle service on campus is a critical research project that will help us understand the challenges and opportunities presented by this type of mobility service and how people interact with it,” said Peng, “The shuttles will augment U-M’s busy campus bus service to provide another mobility option.”

Beyond being an experiment for automotive engineers, the Mcity shuttle will also provide social and behavioral scientists a chance to observe how and if people will use and interact with driverless car services.

Will the Mcity experiment be replicated in other areas of campus? Could similar Navya shuttles be setup at other schools or metropolitan areas?

That future has yet to be written, but it does appear that driverless technology is speeding towards us faster than we may have imagined before.

For more information on autonomous vehicles, check out The Road to Driverless Cars: 1925 – 2025.