If you’re in downtown Las Vegas during the next week, you might spot a small, pod-like shuttle bus driving passengers up and down Fremont Street. Operated by transit company Keolis, the electric vehicle is fully autonomous, and offering free rides to the public. Officials says it’s also the first self-driving vehicle of its kind to be tested on public roads with passengers in the US.
Built by Navya in France, the Arma shuttle bus has already been in use in countries including Australia, Singapore, and France. The public trial taking place in Las Vegas has only been scheduled from January 11th to January 20th, with the bus carrying up to 12 passengers at once on a small pre-programmed three-block route.
While there’s no steering wheel or pedals on the vehicle, there is a computer monitor and human attendant to ensure safety, and it’s outfitted with an array of GPS and other sensors to detect obstacles, with no need for lane markers to find its way. The bus is limited to a top speed of 16mph, and there are emergency stop buttons throughout the interior that any passenger can press if needed. To request a ride, passengers just press a button at one of the designated stops.
The vehicle being used was also demonstrated at the CES event a week earlier, and Navya says they held a similar test back in December in Michigan, albeit in a simulated environment at a research center. “The ride was smooth. It’s clean and quiet and seats comfortably,” said Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman after taking a ride. “I see a huge future for it once they get the technology synchronized.”
The test is part of a plan by Las Vegas, and Nevada as a whole, to become a hub for the development of autonomous and transportation technology. This includes playing host to Tesla’s Gigafactory, as well as Hyperloop One test facilities. Las Vegas, meanwhile, envisions building a downtown route populated by autonomous busses such as the Arma, with stops at locations including shopping areas, restaurants, performance venues, hospitals, and City Hall.