The Fuse

This Week In AVs: AV Shuttles Make DMV Debut; Michigan Poised To Create AV Lanes; And More

by Alex Adams | @alexjhadams | August 20, 2020

AV Shuttles Make Their DMV Debut
Fairfax County and Dominion Energy are testing an AV shuttle that could be carrying passengers between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and the Mosaic District as early as this fall, in what is expected to be the Washington region’s first trial of self-driving shuttles on public roads. Called Relay, the 13-foot vehicle will shuttle passengers along the one-mile route between the two stops at a top speed of 15mph. “This is our future,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff C. McKay told the Washington Post. “We’d like to be the birthplace of where autonomous vehicles first were successful.”

The service in the Northern Virginia suburbs is the latest in a series of shuttle trials to be conducted across the country, including some that are restarting operations after being put on hiatus by the pandemic such as the Linden LEAP in Columbus, Ohio. However, as a recent Wired story noted, the increasing enthusiasm for AV shuttle projects among transit agencies are having to contend with lingering public mistrust of the technology as well as potential union opposition.

Michigan Takes Steps Toward Dedicated AV Lanes
Last week, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer announced the state and private sector partners are taking steps to build or assign dedicated AV lanes on a 40-mile stretch of Interstate 94 between Detroit and Ann Arbor. “What may be the world’s most sophisticated roadway will be built here in Michigan — to help increase the safety, efficiency, resilience and operations of roadways in the not-so-distant future,” Whitmer said. The project’s organizers say this two-year study, the first of its kind in the U.S., will be used to see whether existing lanes or shoulders will be suitable for AVs, or if new lanes will need to be built.

The project is being backed by Google parent company Alphabet, among others, which hopes to replicate the technology in other metro areas. The project is being led by a company called Cavnue, which will start the study by running AVs with human backup drivers along I-94 and U.S. 12 to collect data. Jonathan Winer, co-CEO of an Alphabet-funded company called Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners, which owns Cavnue, said at first self-driving buses would use the lanes, which would be similar to dedicated rapid transit lanes in other cities.

UK Weighs Legal Level 3 Driving
The announcement comes as the United Kingdom considers legalizing hands-free driving as early as next spring. The country’s Department for Transport (DfT) has issued a called for automated lane keeping systems (ALKS), which could pave the way for the introduction of Level 3 driving in the UK at speeds of up to 70mph. The DfT has announced it is considering changing existing legal frameworks to enable Level 3 driving on British motorways.

The call for evidence will also look at whether ALKS-enabled cars should be classed as automated, meaning the technology provider rather than the driver would be responsible for safety while the system is engaged. The consideration also comes after an international regulation on ALKS—the first such internationally-binding agreement of its kind—was approved by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, and guided by a forum upon which SAFE sits.