Saturday, 11 March 2017
SAN RAMON, California: Shuttle buses that make steering wheels, accelerators, brake pads, and even human drivers, obsolete made their debut recently at an East Bay business park. The futuristic cubes get around using 21st century technology, including lasers on all four corners, GPS navigation, and sensors that detect obstacles.
And the sensors work. At least they did during a demonstration at Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon when Habib Shamskhou, who is working with the pilot programme, stepped in front of a moving shuttle to prove a point. The shuttle lurched to a stop, prompting a confident Shamskhou to raise his hands above his head and beam with a smile that read, “See, told you.”
The shuttles, made by the French company EasyMile, are in the second phase of a pilot programme that began last summer with testing at Concord’s GoMentum Station. Now, two of them are transporting workers within the Bishop Ranch complex of office parks. They are expected to be on public streets surrounding the office park by the end of the year, said Randy Iwasaki, executive director of the Contra Costa Transportation Authority.
Although other driverless cars (Google for example) exist and have been testing on public roads, they require a steering wheel and driver during tests. Thanks to recent California legislation, the Bishop Park shuttles would be the first driverless shuttles in the nation to be operating on public roads.
Before hitting the public roads threshold, however, a permit will be required from the Department of Motor Vehicles, Iwasaki said.
The DMV is developing regulations for autonomous vehicles and will have to adopt rules to operate these shuttles beyond testing. It must consider equipment, performance and safety standards. Currently, the DMV requires permits for testing, which it has granted to companies such as Google, Tesla, Honda, Ford, and several others.
In San Ramon, the shuttles will run on a pre-set route and transport employees between buildings at Bishop Ranch. Much like taking a public bus, riders catch the shuttle at designated stops. A “ding” alerts passengers that the ride is beginning. The shuttle travels 12 mph and is equipped with an “SOS” button should an emergency stop be required. Each shuttle can hold up to 12 people.
Alex Mehran Sr, CEO of Sunset Development Co, which owns and operates Bishop Ranch, said he has full confidence in the technology of the vehicles. The other day in testing, he said, a shuttle stopped when it detected a plastic bag nearby.
Mehran said his company is “not trying to make a profit over this but trying to provide a public good.” Sunset bought the two shuttles, designed in France, for about US$500,000, Mehran said. The two-year contract comes with services by EasyMile engineers.
The shuttle’s ride was surprisingly smooth, said Carolyn Mehran, who is Alex Mehran’s wife. It was her first ride in a driverless vehicle.
The vehicles are the first and only ones to be deployed in North America by EasyMile, said Iwasaki. EasyMile, however, has the vehicles in 14 other countries, including France, Finland, Dubai, and Australia. It designs and builds the vehicles, and is expected to make another 80 this year, expanding to other countries, said Marion Lheritier, of EasyMile.
Source by: Internet