Who Needs a Driver? Autonomous Shuttles are in!
Two new autonomous public transportation shuttles were introduced for public use in Lake Nona on Wednesday, the first of its kind in the Orlando area.
Beep, the autonomous vehicle company based out of Central Florida, will operate the buses as part of its Move Nona program, which aims to provide those in Lake Nona “a variety of efficient and interconnected ways to get around,” according to Beep’s website.
The new buses are the first step in Beep’s vision for Lake Nona.
“We had to decide on things we barely understood,” said Rasesh Thakkar, the Senior Managing Director of Tavistock Development, which created the Lake Nona community. “We invested in no-limit infrastructure.”
The shuttles will operate between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. and again between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. The two stops are currently located at the Lake Nona Town Center, right behind the Pixon Apartments building and the Laureate Park Village Center in front of the Canvas restaurant. The route is a little more than a mile, and the ride takes around 15 minutes, depending on traffic.
Beep’s CEO Joe Moye didn’t hold back when he spoke about what the buses mean for the future of transportation technology. “What you experience[d] today was, I think, one of the most exciting inflection points in technology that you’re going to see for the next 20 years,” Moye told Nonahood News.
Moye also expressed excitement about how vehicles like Beep’s could change the way families live and move. “Providing mobility services which allow people to move around a community in a safe and secure and reliable fashion, we think, is going to take cars off the road and take expense out of people’s household budgets.”
Beep’s rules for passengers who want to ride fall in line with typical etiquette for those on public transportation. You must allow passengers to exit the bus before you board, no food, drinks, or tobacco or vaping products can be consumed while the ride is in progress, and passengers must have their seatbelts fastened in order for the bus to start moving. If you are 16 or younger, you must be accompanied by an adult. No pets are allowed on the shuttle, but service dogs are permitted.
Each bus will also have a shuttle attendant along to assist the riders.
As far as safety features, Beep and NAVYA, the French company that built the shuttles, made sure to adhere to the U.S government’s strict regulations for autonomous vehicles.
NAVYA has reported on its website that the company has a perfect safety record, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Automated Driving Systems Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment Disclosure Index. Beep also worked with Orlando first responders in order to make sure that they had knowledge of the buses and how to handle a variety of unlikely emergency situations.
Each bus is also outfitted with an emergency kit on-board, and they will both be monitored constantly by Beep’s command center in Lake Nona. Each shuttle seats a maximum of 11 people, with standing room for about four more persons, and will operate around 15 mph, although they can go up to 30 mph. Speed and duration of the trip are solely determined by environmental factors such as weather or transportation factors such as traffic, accidents, and more.
Jérôme Rigaud, the COO of NAVYA, who flew in from Paris for the event, said that measure of how safe his company’s shuttles are will be how soon people pick up their phones once they’re off. “We want the ride to be boring,” Rigaud laughed. “When they say it’s boring, we have a done deal.”
Rigaud also hinted that other cities in Florida want automated transportation in their communities, but he wasn’t able to mention any by name. Lake Nona joins a list of only a few other cities in the U.S. to have this kind of transportation and will be sure to serve as a sort of testing ground as the technology grows in popularity.
In attendance at the Move Nona launch were Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. Both spoke at the gathering and even pulled up to the press conference in one of the autonomous buses.
“With today’s launch of Beep’s autonomous shuttle service in Lake Nona, we celebrate their investment in our community and the expansion of safe, efficient, environmentally-friendly transportation options in Central Florida,” Mayor Dyer said.
Dyer also spoke about making Orlando “a city that embraces technology,” by bringing in 5G wireless data and sustainable Wi-Fi. He also emphasized that Orlando needs to bring in “much-needed transportation funding.”
Nonahood News also spoke with Jessi Blakley, Vice President of Communications for Tavistock Development, and she said that rides will be free to the public during the trial period. There was no mention of how long that period will last, but Nonahood News will update you with prices and any Move Nona route changes here.
Lisa Desmond, Marketing and Communications for Beep said, “The shuttles are wheelchair accessible with a manual ramp stored on the shuttle that can be deployed by the Shuttle Attendant. It is not currently ADA compliant as it was originally designed with European accessibility standards in mind. The manufacturer is currently working with the top provider of ADA retrofit components in the U.S. to include features such as an automated wheelchair ramp, a wheelchair securement system, and more. These features are due for release later this early or early next year.”
Updated by Nicole LaBosco.