Optimus Ride AVs debut at Brooklyn Navy Yard

Optimus Ride, an MIT spinoff, has started running six electric AV shuttles using LiDAR sensors at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. (Optimus Ride)

Optimus Ride launched six autonomous vehicles on the private streets of the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York on Wednesday, each equipped with a safety driver and a software operator.

The system is designed to run on a continuous loop between 7 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. on weekdays along a 1.1-mile loop between the New York City Ferry stop at Dock 72 and the Cumberland Gate at Flushing Avenue. Given its location, Optimus Ride expects 500 passengers every day. The Navy Yard is a 300-acre walled off industrial area that has other vehicles,  but is not as public as many areas of the city.

New York State hasn’t previously authorized many commercial self-driving vehicles, given various laws and other transportation priorities. In 2017,  Audi demonstrated AV at the state capital in Albany and Cadillac drove a hands-free vehicle from New York City to New Jersey.

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Optimus Ride CEO Ryan Chin said in a statement that the launch of the service is a validation that the system is safe and can solve transportation problems. One goal of the project is to increase confidence in and acceptance of the technology.  

Optimus Ride, an MIT spinoff, has successfully completed 20,000 trips since it first launched in 2015 with several Boston area locations. It has agreements to deploy in Reston, Virginia, Fairfield, California, and the Seaport District in Boston. All the sites use non-public streets.

The Optimus Ride vehicles are six-seater electric vans equipped with three LiDAR sensors and eight cameras. Two of the LiDAR sensors are in front and one in back.

A reviewer for the Verge took a ride aboard an Optimus Ride vehicle around the Navy Yard and called it “uneventful” as it moved along at 15 miles an hour, staying in its lane and avoiding pedestrians. It was able to make a left turn, normally a difficult task for AVs.

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