The City of Orlando recently announced the start of a six-month autonomous shuttle pilot program in partnership with Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority (LYNX) and Beep Inc.
Beep is an Orlando-based provider of autonomous shared mobility solutions.
The autonomous pilot, called SWAN Shuttle (Shuttling With Autonomous Navigation), will provide the city with LYNX data and learnings to guide the city’s transportation strategy on how shared, electric, and autonomous vehicles can enhance accessibility.
“We've worked closely with the city for a number of years and it has been very supportive of our business, as we've continued to grow and expand the testing of these autonomous platforms,” says Joe Moye, CEO of Beep. “It's been a very long and productive relationship. It's been a longtime relationship that's finally developed in this first deployment in downtown Orlando.”
What to Expect From the Shuttle Pilot
Residents, visitors, and businesses now have access to the fare-free SWAN Shuttle pilot seven days a week in Creative Village.
The approximately one-mile route has five stops connecting LYNX Central Station and SunRail to UCF/Valencia Downtown, Luminary Green Park, Electronic Arts (EA), and Parramore and Creative Village residents and businesses.
The shuttles operate in the existing bus lane dedicated to the LYMMO Orange Line in the early afternoon and evening from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Moye emphasizes how all parties involved in the pilot program are excited to expand accessibility in Orlando.
“LYNX has been relatively innovative as it relates to some of the routes that they've tried to deploy both short haul and long haul,” Moye says. “One of the big challenges is that it's typically not easy to get down to downtown areas. Both LYNX and the city have a real ambition for extending accessibility and mobility across the city. These arterial services, as represented in this route, are a natural extension of public transit and fill a really important gap in smaller-form factors that are smaller than buses.”
Beep’s national command center in Lake Nona will provide monitoring and oversight of the Creative Village SWAN Shuttle pilot alongside its other project sites across the U.S.
Racquel Asa, chief marketing officer, Beep, views Orlando as the perfect location for the shuttle pilot.
“Being able to provide LYNX the ability to work with the FTA is critical for us,” Asa says. “When you look at the city of Orlando, it’s booming when it comes to construction, development, and the tech sector.”
Overcoming Potential Challenges
Proving public transportation involving autonomous technology can bring challenges, but Moye isn’t too worried about what’s to come for the shuttle pilot.
“One of the biggest advantages of these types of mobility solutions is that they leverage existing road infrastructure,” Moye says. “You don't have to develop dedicated lanes or dedicated infrastructure. As I look to the future, the more electric vehicles we put out there, the more we need to be out in front of charging infrastructure and be able to pull power from the grid at the appropriate times. The reality of it is we're able to deploy this project with really minimal investment on the infrastructure side.”
While infrastructure isn’t something to worry about, Beep acknowledges that riders could be hesitant to ride a shuttle with autonomous technology.
“There's certainly apprehension at some levels,” Moye says. “They want to be educated on the technology. They want to experience autonomous mobility in very safe use cases.”
Moye feels that Beep’s experience in the city of Orlando can provide peace of mind for riders on the SWAN Shuttle.
“We've had a lot of experience now operating in Orlando for over four years,” Moye says. “We've had a lot of experience of leveraging onboard safety attendants that are there to educate the population, inform them of how the vehicle works, and how it operates on the roadways. The fact that we have so much repeat ridership is a great indication of a level of adoption and comfort, but like any technology, people are going to be apprehensive.”
The onboard safety attendants will play a role in easing riders’ worries.
“By providing it in an environment that's familiar so that they understand what those safety attendants and shuttle attendants do, it makes that experience that much more enjoyable,” Asa says. “Honestly, the best compliment we can get is ‘Well, that was boring.’”
Moye stresses how important safety is to Beep and offers an encouraging reminder to riders.
“These technologies will absolutely save lives and do the things we need to do to protect both vulnerable road users, pedestrians, and bicyclists as well as the occupants of vehicles,” Moye says. “The technology itself is so advanced that it can operate three times faster than a human can and identify an incident.”
As for the future of Beep, the company is looking to make some changes to safety attendants.
“We're going to transition from onboard safety attendants to virtual safety attendants,” Moye says. “We as a company are developing a lot of the technologies to ensure even in an unattended driverless vehicle, you're going to have monitoring and oversight for safety purposes or that you're going to be able to communicate with somebody in a command center. If there are any questions or issues, there's always going to be a human in the loop.”