Innovation

Las Vegas launches driverless shuttle bus test run on public roads

An autonomous shuttle developed by French company Navya began navigating Fremont Street in Las Vegas this week, offering free rides to citizens as part of a pilot test.

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The Arma self-driving shuttle.

Image: P. Salomé/Navya

This week, Las Vegas launched what it claims is the first completely autonomous, fully electric shuttle to be driven on public roads in the US.

The Arma shuttle, created by the French company Navya, will take passengers up and down the busy Fremont Street with regular traffic through January 20 as a test run for developers, the Las Vegas Sun reported. The Arma holds 12 passengers, and can reach up to 27 mph. However, it will only drive up to 12 mph during the test period.

"Las Vegas has always been on the cutting edge of technology for our citizens and our visitors," Jorge Cervantes, Las Vegas executive director of community development, told the Las Vegas Sun. "We have 40 million visitors a year here and traffic on the Strip and downtown gets very congested. The ability to move people more efficiently is something we've been looking at for a while."

The shuttles were introduced in France in 2015—a fleet of 30 vehicles has transported more than 100,000 people since then, according to the Sun. But Las Vegas would be the first US city to provide the company's autonomous vehicle service.

"Europe's efforts in vehicle autonomy have focused more on autonomous shuttles than personal cars, and that's demonstrated by the Navya technology," said Michael Ramsey, an autonomous vehicle analyst at Gartner Research. "It's a pretty good demonstration of what is possible, while also showing how slow, literally, technology like this might evolve in cities. Limited to one street—not the Strip—and 12 mph, it's the first baby step on the way to changing last-mile transportation."

SEE: NASA tech allows humans to remote control Nissan's autonomous cars

Cervantes told the Sun that the Arma shuttles could be running regularly "by late summer to early fall," after the city ensures the technology is safe.

The Arma and its services will cost about $10,000 per month to operate, Navya vice president Henri Coron told the Sun. However, many companies have already inquired about advertising on the shuttle's inside screens, which will likely cover most of those costs, Cervantes said.

Despite Las Vegas' claims, the Arma is far from the only autonomous bus running tests in the US. In October 2015, EasyMile made an agreement to pilot two driverless buses in an office park in San Ramon, CA. In June 2016, IBM announced that it was partnering with Local Motors to bring its Watson cognitive computing system to an autonomous shuttle bus called Olli. Olli hit the streets in Washington DC, Miami, and the University of Las Vegas last year.

And in July 2016, Mercedes-Benz unveiled its Future Bus, a semi-automated city bus that the company touts as safer, more comfortable, and more efficient than traditional buses, TechRepublic's Conner Forrest reported. It was tested on a 20 km track through Amsterdam. Autonomous buses have also been used in Finland and other countries.

The 3 big takeaways for TechRepublic readers

  1. This week, Las Vegas began a test run of the first completely autonomous, fully electric shuttle to be driven on public roads in the US.
  2. The Arma shuttle, developed by French company Navya, holds 12 passengers and can drive up to 27 mph.
  3. While there are a number of other driverless bus and car tests occurring across the US, it will take time for the technology to fully develop, experts say.

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About Alison DeNisco

Alison DeNisco is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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