Autonomous vehicle unveiled

Wesley LeBlanc
Posted 12/27/17

JACKSONVILLE – Transportation officials have taken the first steps in driving public transit into the future with the grand opening of its test track designed for autonomous, or self-driving, …

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Autonomous vehicle unveiled

Posted

JACKSONVILLE – Transportation officials have taken the first steps in driving public transit into the future with the grand opening of its test track designed for autonomous, or self-driving, vehicles – vehicles the agency hopes to become the replacement for the much-maligned Skyway people mover.

At an event held on the second floor of Intuition Ale Works Dec. 20, the Jacksonville Transportation Authority displayed its Ultimate Urban Circulator project, which aims to bring public autonomous vehicles to the city. According to JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel Ford, that reality is still as many as five years away. “We’ve got a journey ahead of us and our hope is to have an actual line operating in about five years but we’ve still got at least of two years of testing and research ahead of us,” Ford said.

That testing and research will not only take place in office buildings and vehicle labs, but also on a private street that will act as JTA’s testing track. This track, known as the AV Test & Learn track, is located on the access road south of the Hart Bridge in downtown Jacksonville and north of Metropolitan Park. When an autonomous vehicle is being tested, public traffic will not be allowed to drive on the access road.

JTA will choose one of 4-6 different autonomous vehicles that will eventually replace the Skyway. The test track is designed to test these autonomous vehicles and determine which one best fits the infrastructure of Jacksonville and the daily traffic drivers might encounter.

“We have to test and test and test these vehicles, all while keeping the Skyway running, until we find the vehicle that best fits our city, and then from there, we must purchase the vehicle we’ve selected and move towards refitting the Skyway and ultimately, replacing it,” Ford said.

JTA is observing characteristics of each test vehicle and how it might work with the city’s current infrastructure.

“We have to find a vehicle that will work up on the Skyway and the ramp system we plan to build that will allow the vehicle to go from the elevated Skyway system to the streets below,” said Ford. “The vehicle must also be capable of utilizing the current stations we have in place and able to safely and enjoyably manage its way through the traffic Jacksonville experiences.”

Not only does JTA plan to replace the Skyway with autonomous vehicles, but it also plans to expand on the Skyway system by adding ramps that allow the future autonomous vehicle to travel through street-level traffic and move to the elevated Skyway sections where it might be more efficient for the vehicle to operate.

“All of that is in the business of efficiency and providing to people a service that proves it’s worth using,” said Ford. “We want people to look at this system and because of its efficiency, safety and cost, choose it over say, driving themselves to work.”

While a specific vehicle hasn’t been chosen, and won’t be for quite a while, JTA does anticipate the vehicle they finally choose to have comfortable seats, as well as standing room to maximize capacity, touch-screen displays and security cameras. Ford said eventually, they plan for the vehicles to be almost Uber-like, giving users the ability to open an app and determine the closest station, price, destination and more.

“The Skyway system will likely run on a specified route, which users will of course know beforehand, but down the line, we’d like to implement this system to the surrounding neighboring areas,” said Ford. “In those places, places more residential than they are city, the system will run more akin to an Uber or a taxi, than say, a trolley or train.”

At the event, guests were able to take a ride in one of the autonomous vehicles JTA is currently testing on the AV Test & Learn track. While the vehicle didn’t exceed speeds past 10 miles per hour, the car was capable of going faster, to speeds of 20 miles per hour. During this test, the vehicle, developed by Easy Mile, a global transportation company whose U.S. office is in Denver, Colo., demonstrated its ability to go forwards and backwards at the same speed. They also demonstrated its ability to stop if anything gets in the way by a man jumping in front of the vehicle. The vehicle will be open for the public to test ride in the new year.

Not only does JTA plan to replace the Skyway with autonomous vehicles, but it also plans to expand on the Skyway system by adding ramps that allow the future autonomous vehicle to travel through dedicated lanes and move to the elevated Skyway sections where it might be more efficient for the vehicle to operate.

“All of that is in the business of efficiency and providing to people a service that proves it’s worth using,” said Ford. “We want people to look at this system and because of its efficiency, safety and cost, choose it over say, driving themselves to work.”

While a specific vehicle hasn’t been chosen, and won’t be for quite a while, JTA does anticipate the vehicle they finally choose to have comfortable seats, as well as standing room to maximize capacity, touch-screen displays and security cameras. Ford said eventually, they plan for the vehicles to be almost Uber-like, giving users the ability to open an app and determine the closest station, price, destination and more.

“The Skyway system will likely run on a specified route, which users will of course know beforehand, but down the line, we’d like to implement this system to the surrounding neighboring areas,” said Ford. “In those places, places more residential than they are city, the system will run more akin to an Uber or a taxi, than say, a trolley or train.”

At the event, guests were able to take a ride in one of the autonomous vehicles JTA is currently testing on the AV Test & Learn track. While the vehicle didn’t exceed speeds past 10 miles per hour, the car was capable of going faster, to speeds of 20 miles per hour. During this test, the vehicle, developed by Easy Mile, a global transportation company whose U.S. office is in Denver, Colo., and Transdev, a French company with U.S. headquarters in Lombard, Ill., demonstrated its ability to go forwards and backwards at the same speed. They also demonstrated its ability to stop if anything gets in the way by a man jumping in front of the vehicle. The vehicle will be open for public test rides in the new year at scheduled events with an on-board operator.

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