futurology

Research Riding on the Mcity Shuttle

I rode in an autonomous vehicle for the first time today! It’s a shuttle that’s part of a research project of our big autonomous vehicle testing center

It was pretty fascinating! Some coworkers of mine and I had been meaning to make it up there since they started doing this last summer but hadn’t gotten around to it yet. It was also closed over the winter. 

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Here’s the bus stop, with a foreboding warning: 

The key part is, “There are inherent risks of riding in an automated vehicle (including bodily harm and/or death) that cannot be eliminated regardless of the care taken to avoid injuries.” Cool!

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Isn’t she CUTE???? The shuttle is manufactured by a French company, Navya, that opened a small plant in neighboring Saline in conjunction with the Mcity launch.

A student/engineer/otherwise responsible professional is always standing by in case of a malfunction.

A student/engineer/otherwise responsible professional is always standing by in case of a malfunction.

From the above photo, you can get an idea of what it’s like inside. It’s pretty close quarters. There are eight permanent seats and three that fold open to the side. Wearing a seatbelt was heavily encouraged.

Baby is in an autonomous vehicle!!!!! 2spooky!!!!

Baby is in an autonomous vehicle!!!!! 2spooky!!!!

The route is less than a mile long and all on university-owned roads because Ann Arbor hasn’t approved it to operate on city roads as of yet. The man in the preceding photo is an engineer who serves as a backup in case the automation does something funky - as of now, there is always someone monitoring the shuttle’s systems, so it’s not truly autonomous, in that sense. It’s also on an entirely pre-programmed route and requires manual takeover any time it has to deviate from that route. On my trip, there were lawn equipment vehicles blocking the road at one point and the engineer had to take over (using a Nintendo controller!). 

It felt safe. We encountered pedestrians a few times, and each time, it slowed dramatically and beeped loudly at the pedestrian while avoiding them. It felt safer than riding in a vehicle with a human at the wheel, though substantially jerkier (more on that shortly). 

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But it’s one of those things. There’s a daycare on the loop where the shuttle originally operated, and parents complained enough that the daycare was removed from the route. 

Lastly, it was all a grand old time, but I was really motion sick by the time I got back to work. I don’t think I even realized how off I was until I started going up the stairs into my building and, uh, WHAT IS UP AND DOWN AND SIDEWAYS AND HOW DO STAIRS WORK? And I skinned up my knee. Alas.