This year’s North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) will bring numerous changes as the show makes the move from its traditional January time slot to June. But one of the most exciting new attractions this year will be the opportunity for the public to get around downtown Detroit in cutting-edge autonomous vehicles.
That’s because five companies, along with their partners, have been selected as part of the NAIAS 2020 Michigan Mobility Challenge, issued by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer in May. The $5.4 million program weighed several proposals from a combined 34 entities. The five winning groups were announced in October.
“Governor Whitmer asked the question, ‘What can we do with another mobility challenge that moves the needle?’ We wanted something that was the first of its kind, that honors the industry and positions Michigan as a world leader,” says Amanda Roraff, managing director of PlanetM. “Let’s show the public what the future of mobility looks like.”
Over the course of NAIAS, each of the five challenge winners will provide demonstrations of their autonomous vehicles throughout downtown Detroit. But these are not your average demonstrations.
“What sets us apart is that these are not the types where you sign up for a demo at 1 p.m. and then drive around in a circle,” says Elise Feldpausch, connected vehicle specialist at the Michigan Department of Transportation. “These really emphasize autonomous vehicles being part of regular, everyday life.”
The vehicles will be available through a mobility-as-a-service app developed by Israeli-based Moovit. Similar to conventional ride-sharing apps, users will be prompted to enter their destinations. The app will then recommend ride options from one of the five autonomous vehicle services.
Not only that, but the app provides users additional transit options that might be necessary to complete the trip, including SMART and DDOT buses, the city’s MoGo bikeshare program, and the various scooters available downtown.
By utilizing an app interface recognizable to ridesharing app users, the Michigan Mobility Challenge aims to create an experience that is actually more routine for everyone despite the groundbreaking technology it promotes, thereby making people that much more likely to use it.
And there’s an emphasis on everyone.
“This is not only for NAIAS attendees. This service will be available for everyone in the area to download,” Feldpausch says. “We’re trying to go off of the idea that we want it to be a familiar user experience for people. The app was one of the first things we procured.”
Here are the five autonomous vehicle services that will be available to the public during NAIAS:
- Continental has teamed with Easy Mile, Nexteer Automotive, 3M, CNX Motion, and Oakland University to provide three automated 15-passenger vehicles. Those vehicles may also create a “shuttle train” carrying up to 45 people to the same destination.
- NAVYA has partnered with Wayne State University on a 15-passenger shuttle that features accessibility options including an automated ramp and restraints for paratransit riders. The shuttle also kneels at the curb and features interior machine vision research.
- Along with partners Hyundai Mobis and Lawrence Technological University, Yandex is supplying 10 Hyundai Sonata four-passenger automated vehicles, the company’s largest demonstration of its “robo-taxi” fleet in the United States.
- Local Motors, with partner Robotic Research, will deploy two of its fully automated Olli shuttles. The eight-passenger vehicles are largely built from parts made by 3D printers.
- AutoGuardian by Smart Cone is teaming with Aurrigo, Salander, and RDM Group on two 10-person automated and electric shuttles. The shuttles feature adaptive autonomy, meaning they can switch on additional autonomous features as legal regulations allow.
“We have some very unique vehicles, which is great for the general public. Some will feel like normal vehicles. Others are more futuristic, and even eye-popping. Think of The Jetsons,” Roraff says. “These vehicles will educate the general public to what they’re actually experiencing.”