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Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

With seniors and people with disabilities in mind, Detroit is piloting autonomous public transportation

By meerna Jun12,2024

The demand for a car to get around the Motor City is never surprising. Given Detroit’s size, construction, wide roads and visiting drivers, whether from across the state or from abroad, the threats are not unexpected. All of these problems can worsen more quickly for older or disabled residents.

Detroit has taken a new step into the future of public transportation to help shuttle riders equip themselves with an automated driving system, or ADS. These autonomous shuttles will be deployed as part of a one-year pilot program beginning this summer.

The buses, a combination of city bus and ride-sharing, run at fixed stops, but instead of a regular schedule, they can be hailed using an app, phone number or website provided to program participants. The shuttle will inform them about the distance from the stop and pick up the passenger.

“(The shuttle) can handle lane changes and turns,” says Tim Slusser, Detroit’s director of mobility innovation. “It can do anything a human driver can do on the streets of Detroit.

To participate in the pilot program, residents must be 65 years of age or older or have a recognized medical disability and live in one of the following neighborhoods:

  • View of the island
  • Eastern Market Square
  • McDougall Hunt/Larger Villages
  • Lafayette Park
  • Elmwood Park
  • Virginia Park Community
  • Russell Woods
  • Boston-Edison
  • New Center
  • North end
  • Elijah McCoy
  • LaSalle Gardens
  • Dexter/Linwood

These districts were selected after research showed that they were the most populous districts that met the program’s parameters. Ultimately, the program is to be available throughout the city.

Once the pilot program begins, major stops will be Eastern Market, Detroit Medical Center, Dingell Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Rivertown Market and Grand Circus Park. Others will be added as the program progresses.

If the thought of an autonomous car makes you nervous, you’re not alone. A AAA survey from earlier this year found that most drivers are afraid of autonomous cars – 66 percent, according to their website. Mainly driven by crash reports and test failures.

Slusser was expected to encounter this concern, especially given people’s attitudes toward driving their own vehicles in a city like Detroit. But when he went into the neighborhood to discuss the project, he found he received a different reaction. People were excited about the idea, and many people he talked to, especially older people, didn’t like using ride-sharing services like Uber.

“I’m being picked up by drivers I don’t trust. They drive erratically” – these are the most common complaints Slusser heard.

The ADS shuttle has a human safety operator called an automated vehicle operator (AVO), which may have allayed concerns. They can take control of the vehicle if problems occur, but primarily act as a concierge for passengers, providing them with any services and information they may need.

The plan is for every turn and stop to be handled by the car, but if any problems arise, pressing the brake or turning the wheel will put the car into manual mode.

There are a number of requirements that AVO applicants must meet before they can be fully installed.

First, there is a comprehensive 15-video online course that includes content from the Society of Automotive Engineers, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Institute on Disabilities.

This is followed by a 20-hour course consisting of five on-site training sessions. This includes manual safe driving certification and complex, step-by-step autonomous interactions. Finally, on their first day on the job, they cannot score lower than 4.7/5 on their preparation survey.

The wagons were tested in real conditions by their designers, May Mobility from Ann Arbor. Testing was conducted at the University of Michigan’s Mcity Test Facility, which is the first real-world automated vehicle (AV) testing facility.

The tests included a “driving test, similar to the test we all take at the Secretary of State’s office, and a “driver intelligence test.” The latter method places the vehicle in scenarios that are most likely to cause accidents, especially those that result in death or injury, and checks how the vehicle’s software responds.

Potential hazards encountered by the software included an angular collision with a hit vehicle, failure to yield when entering a roundabout, a head-on collision at an unprotected left-hand tunnel junction, a risk of collision and an angled collision when entering a roundabout, an angled collision while entering a roundabout, and rear-end collision at a traffic light roundabout.

To keep the test realistic, Mcity incorporates risk at random times, simulating the chaotic nature of driving.

“We randomize the variables so (the car) doesn’t know what we’re testing,” says Gary MaGuire, managing director of Mcity.

Without randomization, the system can learn what to do at this point in the test rather than when this type of risk occurs.

Testing was also conducted on the streets of Detroit this year to see how the vehicle reacts on the streets among real drivers who are able to make real human error, rather than on a controlled track.

As with every Motown rush hour, there were unexpected variables in the testing, but the Mcity testing prepared for it and the vehicle responded as expected.

This all happens before Detroit’s elderly and disabled people come on board and with them especially in mind. They are especially cautious when it comes to threats from Mother Nature.

“At this time, our operational design domain (ODD) does not allow us to operate in Detroit when it is snowing, raining or icy,” Satvir Singh, director of product safety at May Mobility, said in an email. “We will continue to operate the service in manual mode under these conditions until we update our optical drive at a later date.”

May Mobility’s approach to AV is different from most of the industry and has a unique ability to impact communities.

“We stand out from many other AV companies because we focus on filling gaps in existing transportation systems and improving mobility among underserved populations,” says Singh. “This means that instead of a robotaxi model, we work with cities and companies to create microtransit zones that meet the specific needs of the communities in which we operate.”

Over the course of several months, off-road autonomy engineers spent mapping the streets used and then two weeks testing and improving the system. No safety issues emerged, but the driving data helped make the ride more comfortable.

The long-term goal is to make the system available to more Detroit residents and may include door-to-door functionality. But for now, the pilot is slow. The year-long process will gather as much information as possible to provide the best possible system for older and disabled people.

That’s why they have a minimum goal of 100 participants. to obtain a sufficiently large data set.

The data collected can go beyond helping you use the city’s shuttle service. If the project is successful, Slusser believes the information collected could be used to plan future insurance cases for autonomous cars.

And the show may spark interest closer to home than they thought. Slusser says that after signing some of the legal documents necessary for the program, one of the disabled attorneys said he didn’t have to take part in the program, but that he hoped to get a ride someday.

The application form for the pilot can be found here.

By meerna

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