Hitching a ride on a driverless vehicle may sound like something that only happens in sci-fi movies, but it’s coming closer to reality in Golden. The French autonomous vehicle company EasyMile …
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Hitching a ride on a driverless vehicle may sound like something that only happens in sci-fi movies, but it’s coming closer to reality in Golden.
The French autonomous vehicle company EasyMile (which has its North American headquarters in Denver) says it will make Golden the first city in the state to have such vehicles run on its streets. That is, if it gets permission from Federal and state officials to do so.
On April 20, representatives from EasyMile and the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance presented to the Golden City Council about their plan to deploy seven of its vehicles on around Golden as part of a year-long test pilot.
The pilot, which is set to begin in August, will see the shuttles run on three set routes: one between Brown Hall on the campus and Mines Park north of U.S. 6, a second connecting the campus with downtown Golden via Arapahoe Street and a third connecting Guggenheim Hall with the K parking lot on campus.
Joanna Jamison, the program director for the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance, said the alliance is interested in running a pilot in Golden for several reasons, including the unique downtown campus area that would allow the vehicles to serve a combination of students, residents and visitors.
Jamison said such environments are also “extremely conducive to the operation of EasyMile’s technology.
If EasyMile gets approval to launch the pilot in July, anyone will be able to board one of the shuttles, which will run with a frequency of 5-15 minutes and haves set stops along their route. Shuttle service will be offered from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Each of the shuttles will have seats for six passengers, whom will be required to wear a seat belt. There will also be trained safety operator on board who will be able to take control of the vehicle if anything does go wrong.
But Lauren Isaac, the director of business initiatives, said it is extremely unlikely it will ever be necessary for the safety operator to do so.
“The vehicle does extremely well around cyclists and pedestrians,” said Isaac. “During the first few weeks of deployment, it is not unusual to have people jumping in front of the vehicles and testing the technology’s ability to stop, which is faster than a human’s ability in a car so it really is extremely safe.”
Isaac also touted that the vehicles, which run on electricity, have traveled over 500,000 without ever having had an accident and been approved by use in more than 30 countries.
According to a memo by Golden Planning Director Rick Muriby, the city of Golden will not contribute to the funding of the pilot and does not have the ability to regulate their use on its streets provided the state and Federal government give their approval.
However, Isaac said the pilot would bring several benefits to the city, including attracting people into the city to see and ride the vehicles and positioning Golden as a leader when it comes to autonomous transportation.
Following the presentation, Councilman Casey Brown asked what would happen after the end of the one-year pilot.
“I think we would love to talk with you all more about what that looks like depending on how the project is received, how the project goes etc.,” said Jamison. “But for now we are just really focused on that initial year but very open to conversations about what happens beyond that.”
Although some councilmembers raised questions about safety and other concerns, several expressed excitement about the project.
“A number of years ago I read a book about autonomous vehicles by [the futurist] Rutt Bridges and now here it is happening in Golden,” said Dale. “I am very excited about that.”
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