Driverless Shuttle Takes On Times Square

Okay, you’ve read, seen, and heard it a trillion times. Driverless vehicles are coming, but they are years, maybe a decade or two away from becoming a fulltime reality. The two biggest impedances to that reality are, one, making these vehicles safe for riders, pedestrians, and the surrounding terrain, and two, the cost of doing so.

 

In the grand scheme of things, the focus always seems to be on consumer vehicles that will find themselves in a variety of driving situations that require the ability to go at different speeds and react to a plethora of scenarios. To operate safely and efficiently, autonomous vehicles in this category require mass quantities of very expensive sensors.

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When looked at more closely, there are large areas where automobiles are not only required to move slowly, they could not travel fast even if the driver wanted to. City streets are a prime example. Jammed with buses, taxis, cars, suburban assault vehicles, and rude and annoying bike riders, Times Square in New York City presents no opportunities for breaking even a slow record. And that applies to pedestrians as well. What better place could one find to test out a novel driverless shuttle bus?

 

On Tuesday, July 17, 2018, from 9 AM to 2 PM EST, COAST Autonomous demonstrated its COAST P-1 driverless shuttle, designed specifically for low-speed applications in crowded, urban environments. The COAST P-1 shuttle is a bi-directional, self-driving vehicle capable of speeds up to 20 mph. In dedicated areas and lanes, it can cruise at higher speeds. The vehicle operates over a series defined routes and, like an Uber ride, it can be called with a smartphone app.

Mechanically, it has no pedals or steering wheel, which it does not need for autonomous driving. It does pose the question, what if something goes wrong? We’ll save that for the brief review at the end.

Overall, the shuttle can hold up to 20 passengers. Taking a short ride around Times Square at Broadway and 47th Street, the ride was smooth and stops were not eventful. A pleasant trip if one is not in a hurry. As a native New Yorker, I tend to prefer rides where the taxicab or bus operator sees some open space and floors it. But gone are the days when pedestrians and cyclists made a concerted effort to get out of the way of on-coming traffic. Thanks to the mobile phone for that phenomenon.

 

The only question is since the ride is completely autonomous and it appears that, without a steering wheel or control pedals, there seems to be no room for human intervention in the advent of an emergency. Also, one can see where there may be an occasion for the autonomous vehicle to “hit the gas” and get out of the way of something fast. Other than that, the P-1 was pretty cool. For an even smoother ride into the enlightenment zone, pay a visit to COAST Autonomous.

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