Ann Arbor, MI-based May Mobility, in partnership with the University of Michigan’s MCity autonomous-vehicle test facility and nonprofit business-development organization Ann Arbor SPARK, announce the inauguration of A2GO, an autonomous-vehicle shuttle service serving the Ann Arbor community.
Thanks in part to a State of Michigan grant, this free, on-demand, shared service is scheduled to be available to the public beginning Oct. 11. Additional partners include !important Safety Technologies, 4M, Office of Future Mobility and Electrification and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.
The announcement was made Sept. 21 at the Motor Bella auto show in Pontiac, MI.
The A2GO fleet of four three-passenger Lexus RX 450h hybrids and one Polaris GEM fully electric vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair passenger will operate in a 2.64-sq.-mi. (1,690-acre) area connecting Kerrytown with Downtown, U-M’s South and Central campuses, Pulse Campus and the State Street corridor. Accessible via a May Mobility phone app, the service will be available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“From the talented workforce to the proximity of strong private and municipal partnerships, Ann Arbor has played a critical role in May Mobility’s success,” says Edwin Olson, founder and CEO of May Mobility. “We are proud to bring our autonomous shuttle service to not just our hometown, but the place where our technology was born.”
However, these vehicles will not be fully “autonomous” – meaning driverless – at least for now. While they are equipped with extensive self-driving technology, they will have “safety drivers” onboard ready to take control if necessary.
“Like Cruise, Argo, Zoox and other AV companies, May Mobility does use safety drivers,” Olson explains. “And we have some routes that operate at high levels of autonomy and others that are deliberately more challenging.” He adds that among AV providers, only Waymo so far has revenue-earning driverless operations, and even Waymo still uses safety drivers as its technology development continues.
“The deployment of A2GO exemplifies Michigan’s leadership and innovation in public-private partnerships to facilitate long-lasting change within our mobility ecosystem,” says Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s chief mobility officer. “We are excited to see the results of this pilot in the Ann Arbor community, as well as the next-generation solutions the team at May Mobility continues to bring to the state of Michigan.”
With shuttles currently operating in Grand Rapids, MI; Arlington, TX; Hiroshima, Japan; Indianapolis, and elsewhere, A2GO will be May Mobility’s eighth shuttle deployment since the company began operations.
“Where May differs from other AV companies,” Olson says, “is how we’ve approached the problem. We’re focusing on routes that both serve critical transportation needs and can be served without safety drivers as soon as possible. What I’m excited about is where this approach takes us in the long term. Drivers are expensive, and (particularly in some markets) there just aren’t enough of them to meet demand.
“We also know that where there are human drivers, there are human-caused accidents. The path that we’re on addresses those problems in a way that ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber don’t.”
One community partner involved in A2GO is 4M, Ann Arbor’s first co-living townhomes that offer co-working and mobility solutions to their members. A2GO’s operations are located at 4M’s site, including garage parking for May Mobility’s shuttle vehicles, material storage and offices that maintain daily operations, train autonomous-vehicle operators (AVOs) and manage rider and AVO communications.
Another key partner is !important Safety Technologies, a Montreal-based company with its U.S. headquarters in Ann Arbor. It will take advantage of A2GO to further advance its pedestrian safety technology that communicates with nearby AVs to prevent collisions.
!important Safety Technologies claims to have developed the world’s first ViDAR (vibration detection and ranging) sensor to complement vehicle cameras, radars, lidars and sonars and a mobile safety app that detects pedestrians, wheelchairs, e-scooters, bicyclists and motorcyclists to protect them from vehicular collisions and can even alert the A2GO supervisor to apply the vehicle’s brakes when needed.
“!important is pleased to join the A2GO project as an opportunity to innovate with the population of Ann Arbor,” says CEO Bastien Beauchamp. “The anonymous data collected will help the city identify weak and less-safe zones in order to better plan infrastructures.”
Claiming more than 285,000 autonomous rides to date, May Mobility bills itself as “a leader in autonomous vehicle technology development and deployment…committed to delivering safe, efficient and sustainable shuttle solutions designed to complement today’s public transportation options.”