Riders embrace self-driving shuttles on university campus

For more than a year, blue-and-gold shuttles have been autonomously navigating a short one-mile route on the University of Michigan’s North Campus in Ann Arbor, picking up and dropping off students and professors at designated stops.

And for the past year, researchers at Mcity, the university’s public/private research collaborative that is studying connected and autonomous vehicle technologies, have been collecting data through onboard and exterior cameras and from online surveys from passengers and others who have interacted with shuttles on the road—bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

Although research continues, Mcity shared some highlights from nearly 300 online surveys, primarily from passengers who have boarded the self-driving shuttles.

So far:

  • 40 percent gained trust in autonomous vehicles during their ride
  • 83 percent said their level of trust increased after the ride
  • 60 percent were interested in self-driving vehicles, even before riding
  • 80 percent expressed interest in self-driving vehicles from prior knowledge
  • 81 percent are generally curious about self-driving vehicles

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Greg McGuire, Mcity’s associate director

Riders were asked to suggest improvements and the overwhelming responses were to increase travel speeds and provide more stops. Currently, the shuttles travel at 12 mph and stop at two locations. The shuttles run from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

“When you boil it down, it’s about being more flexible,” McGuire said. “They’re reasonable requests.”

The pair of 11-seat electric shuttles began operating in June 2018 and, to date, have made more than 10,000 trips. The shuttles, manufactured by the French firm NAVYA, are being operated and studied as any researcher would conduct a formal research project.

Exterior cameras capture the reactions and behaviors of other road users. Interior cameras record the reactions of shuttle riders.

How the research might impact driver shortages in the commercial bus and trucking worlds is unknown. But such shuttles could prove useful on predictable campus commuter routes, retirement communities, or any routes in which slow speeds are appropriate.

“Our whole raison d’être is to learn about this technology,” McGuire said


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