Mcity Driverless Shuttle begins operation at University of Michigan

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The Mcity Driverless Shuttle research project at the University of Michigan (U-M) launched on U-M’s North Campus on Monday, June 4.

Through the project, Mcity is examining how passengers react to the driverless shuttles, in an effort to measure consumer acceptance of the technology.

During the project, data generated during operation will be captured using the shuttles’ onboard cameras and Wi-Fi communications. This is the first driverless shuttle project of its kind in the U.S., according to Mcity Director Huei Peng, who is also the Roger L. McCarthy Professor of Mechanical Engineering and the faculty lead on the shuttle research project.

“The Mcity Driverless Shuttle is the first driverless shuttle project in the United States focusing on user behavior research and data collection, and we’re excited to begin this important work,” Peng says.

“The data we collect will help researchers understand user trust over time, as well as how to design safer vehicles and how to operate them more efficiently.”

Mcity, which is a public-private partnership led by the University of Michigan to “accelerate advanced mobility vehicles and technologies,” is operating the shuttle in partnership with U-M Logistics, Transportation and Parking.

According to U-M, the Mcity Driverless Shuttle uses two fully automated, 11-passenger, all-electric AUTONOM Shuttles manufactured by Navya. The shuttles will be used to cover an approximately one-mile round-trip route contained to the North Campus Research Complex (NCRC).

The shuttle carries students, faculty and staff to the complex from more distant parking, and provides easy access to the U-M/Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority bus stop. Future plans include the expansion of the route, and accessibility research.

The shuttles are equipped with a plethora of technologies, including lidar, which uses invisible laser beams to build a view of the surrounding environment, and GPS for localization.

The reactions of riders inside the shuttle will be recorded using interior cameras. This includes using video and audio recordings, and photographs from the videos.

The reaction and behavior of other road users—including other vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians—will be captured using exterior cameras.

To learn about ridership and usage patterns, Mcity will use Wi-Fi data already collected by the university. Mcity is also working with J.D. Power to survey users about their experience, and Mcity's data protection plan will safeguard riders’ privacy.

“The research obtained from our surveys will help the industry understand the rider’s experience on the driverless shuttle as well as non-riders who interact with the shuttle as it operates on U-M’s campus,” explains Kristin Kolodge, executive director of driver interaction and human machine interface at J.D. Power.

“Examining the experience from both perspectives will help industry stakeholders better understand consumer acceptance of driverless technology over time.”

The shuttles will have a conductor onboard at all times to stop the vehicles if necessary for safety reasons. Mcity’s team of safety conductors has completed comprehensive training on the shuttle, both inside the Mcity Test Facility and on the route at NCRC.

According to U-M, approximately 1,000 test runs were conducted inside the test facility, and in total, roughly 500 hours of testing and training were completed, including 200 hours of training by the conductors.

“Safety is Mcity’s highest priority,” Peng adds.

Video footage, courtesy of U-M, of the Mcity Driverless Shuttle in operation can be seen below: