Web Stories Saturday, February 24

Autonomous vehicle startup May Mobility announced its first fully driverless ride service Monday, offering human-free transit to those living in an Arizona retirement community.

Retirees in Sun City, Arizona, are the first to test the Toyota-backed company’s autonomous cars without a human safety operator in the driver’s seat, the company announced in a statement.

Starting Monday afternoon, a select group of users in the 55+ community outside of Phoenix can request a Toyota Sienna minivan for a ride to resident complexes, medical centers and other locations through Via, an app-based on-demand transit service. The Early Rider test group is comprised of residents with “varying transportation needs” to help May Mobility gather feedback and further develop its driverless technology for older communities.

“Especially here, we have an aging population – people who either can’t drive or maybe shouldn’t be driving, but, if they can’t get transportation because our cities are built in such a sprawling way, their quality of life really is negatively impacted,” May Mobility CEO Edwin Olson told CNN. “They can’t go to the grocery store, they can’t get to their doctor’s appointments, they can’t do recreational things. For us, being able to provide transit where people need the transit the most is not only a great business, but it’s a social good.”

May Mobility’s driverless minivan rides are currently free and available on Sun City’s public roads on weekday afternoons. As the driverless cars move, a team of remote operators from May Mobility monitor and communicate with the vehicle.

Any resident of Sun City is eligible to apply to be a so-called “Early Rider,” though May Mobility says it intends to “significantly expand” driverless services beyond the test group.

While the Michigan-based startup first deployed its on-demand vehicles on Sun City public roads in April, cars until now featured a safety operator in the driver’s seat as part of testing efforts. The initial test was sponsored by AARP, though this phase is funded by May. May is also still testing rides with safety operators in cities across Texas, Michigan and Minnesota.

By partnering with retirement communities, cities and transit agencies to identify transportation gaps, May Mobility has been able to get to the testing phase while its biggest competitors have struggled. Alphabet-owned Waymo gained approval to operate in San Francisco in August and launched robotaxi pickups at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport in December. Meanwhile, General Motors’ self-driving arm Cruise laid off nearly a quarter of its workforce in December after GM cut spending on the project in November after a driverless vehicle hit a pedestrian in downtown San Francisco. The incident pushed California regulators to revoke Cruise’s driverless taxi testing permits.

“We’re not robo-taxis. We are micro transit that works with cities to help solve their most challenging transit problems,” Olson said. “In many cases, this means that the city is our customer, and we work together.”

May Mobility has also faced some scrutiny since launching in 2017 and emerging from the prestigious start up accelerator Y Combinator. (Other grads of Y Combinator include Airbnb, Cruise, DoorDash and Dropbox).

Amid a partnership with Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation, a 2019 interview featured officials concerned with the lack of air conditioning in shuttles, slow adoption of vehicles able to accommodate riders with disabilities and several weather conditions that required human operators to intervene.

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