Autonomous shuttle service to launch in Ann Arbor this fall

Beginning Oct. 11, a free, on-demand, autonomous shuttle service will be available to the public in Ann Arbor. The service, called A2GO, will provide trips around a service area that connects Kerrytown, the University of Michigan (U-M) campus, and the State Street corridor. 

The service is funded by a grant from the state of Michigan and is a shared venture between Ann Arbor SPARK, MCity, and Ann Arbor-based autonomous vehicle company May Mobility. Additional partners include !important Safety Technologies, 4M, the Office of Future Mobility and Electrification, and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

"We're all very proud and excited about this unique collaboration that has many voices at the table," says Komal Doshi, director of mobility programs at Ann Arbor SPARK. "Generally in Ann Arbor, we're always thinking about how we can develop the brightest and best things for our community. This is an example."

Using the shuttle service will be very simple. The service will offer five autonomous, shared, on-demand vehicles: four hybrid-electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles (with three-passenger capacity) and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle (with capacity for one passenger in a wheelchair). Users will be able to book their rides using a telephone service or a forthcoming app from the fleet's operator, May Mobility.

"It's perfect for the person who is coming into town and doesn't want to take their car out of a parking garage all the time to make short trips. Another scenario could include someone who comes into the transit center and doesn't want to rely on a car during their time in the city," Doshi says.

The route won't be door-to-door, but rather stop-to-stop: shuttles will pick up and drop off passengers at certain key landmarks and will connect to important transportation hubs like the Blake Transit Center, the Amtrak station, U-M bus stops, and downtown parking structures. 

U-M will also conduct research and collect data throughout the pilot, building on previous work involving NVIDIA autonomous shuttles on the university's North Campus.

"A2GO will allow them to better understand the opportunities of having autonomous vehicles in a denser multi-modal environment and what it means for other modes of transportation," Doshi says.

Doshi adds that technology from Ann Arbor-based start-up !important Safety, which focuses on pedestrian safety, will be installed in A2GO vehicles. 

"People will be able to download their app and get notifications of any incoming vehicles that have that technology, furthering the space around safety and connected vehicle technology," she says. 

A2GO is slated to run for one year, but Doshi is already hoping for an extension.

"It holds great potential to tell us a lot about where people's minds are and what needs to happen to help us embrace and thrive from this technology in the future," she says.  

Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at jaishreeedit@gmail.com.

Photo courtesy of Ann Arbor SPARK.
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