The City of Las Vegas is testing a self driving shuttle to take folks around its iconic downtown area. The shuttle carries about a dozen people and travels a six tenths of a mile circuit with four stops. It has no driver. The papers were full of headlines as the critter had a slight finder binder after being on line for about an hour. I have read a number of articles and spoken to people on the site. Here’s what I have discovered.
Lets start out by saying that the accident was not the shuttle’s fault. A semi backing its trailer into an alley way bumped the shuttle that had stopped to let the backing operation complete. The semi driver received a ticket. There was so little damage to the shuttle you would probably not even repair it on your personal vehicle.
I have learned quite a bit about this test and the shuttle operation.
- The shuttle had to be “trained” to follow the route. That is, it was driven around the shuttle route for two days to learn where it was supposed to go.
- There is a central control hub installed on the top of a building near the shuttle route to help guide it. If the route should be expanded, additional hubs would have to be installed.
- The shuttle travels at about 20 MPH
- There was considerable investigation of the ‘accident’ and although it was certainly the truck driver’s fault, had a person been in charge of the shuttle they would have done one of two things — honk at the truck and alert the driver or back up a few feet and there would not have been an accident at all.
- There is an onboard host on each shuttle but they are there for the convenience of the riders and have no control over the shuttle.
- There is a traffic minder at each shuttle stop to ensure vehicles don’t block the shuttle’s space by the curb. I’m told that drivers in Las Vegas don’t follow the rules and can park blocking curb space even though signage is in place.
You have to begin somewhere, and this is a place to start. Sensors and software needs to be tested and the bugs worked out. What we need to remember is that this shuttle is light years from a level 5 autonomous vehicle that will be any kind of threat to our industry.
The vision of a driverless car pulling up in front of your house in Westchester County outside New York City and taking you to dinner and a show in Manhattan isn’t even a gleam on the horizon. That car is what might begin to strike fear in the hearts of parking operators everywhere. Relax, decades to go, I think.