Rhode Island Picks May Mobility to Run AV Pilot Program

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) has picked May Mobility to run an automated vehicle program in the Ocean State.

May Mobility, an Ann Arbor, Mich.-based startup, was selected through a competitive request-for-proposals process that started earlier this year.

The company will first initiate a testing phase with small autonomous vehicle shuttles, each of which can hold six people, including a fleet attendant who will have the ability to fully control the all-electric vehicle at any time.

May Mobility already has an all-electric self-driving shuttle service underway in Detroit and has entered into agreements for public service routes in Columbus, Ohio and Grand Rapids, Mich.

Earlier this year the company raised $11.5 million in seed funding from BMW iVentures, Toyota AI and others.

The RIDOT selected the densely populated neighborhoods within the Woonasquatucket River Corridor as an ideal location for the introduction of self-driving vehicles to fill the existing transportation gap between Olneyville and downtown Providence.

The pilot service will be available and free to the public for a year, beginning over the winter months on low-volume, low-speed roadways in the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown.

In addition, the autonomous shuttle service will connect to the state’s public bus service — RIPTA.

A release from the RIDOT noted that the shuttle service would become available to the public in the Woonasquatucket River corridor in Providence in late spring 2019.

Under the terms of the partnership, the RIDOT will contribute $800,000 for the first year of operation, and the contract with May Mobility includes options to extend the service for an additional two years.

Indeed, the deal is just one part of a multi-agency effort called the Rhode Island Transportation Innovation Partnership (TRIP) Mobility Challenge to explore new technologies in transportation.

Among its partners are the City of Providence, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA), and the Quonset Development Corporation.

The DOT has also formed a research team drawing from a range of local institutions of higher education, the continuation of an effort the department kicked off last year at the TRIP Expo at the New England Institute of Technology.

While official statements from government officials lauded the deal as an important step forward for the state, Thomas Cute, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618, struck a more cautious tone.

“New technology associated with autonomous vehicles can be helpful to bus operators as far as pedestrian recognition and blind spot warnings, the Union remains concerned about the total replacement of human operators who bring a dynamic of safe interactions with passengers,” he said in a statement.

The nation’s smallest state is among dozens that are pushing ahead as fast as possible with their own plans to initiate autonomous vehicle programs.

California and Arizona are widely considered the leaders in the AV development field — a recent partnership between Sacramento and a vehicle communications software provider is hoping to bring Level 5 autonomous vehicles to the streets of California’s capital city.

In June, Boston expanded its autonomous vehicle-testing program, allowing Aptiv subsidiary nuTonomy to test self-driving cars on streets across the city.

In May, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order allowing autonomous vehicle testing on all public roads in the Buckeye State.

— Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter.

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