Ready or not, here they come -- as of Friday a driverless shuttle service will be available in Arlington.
Self-driving vans will be carrying up to three passengers at a time, cruising along at 35 mph, right alongside other traffic, as it makes its way through Arlington’s Entertainment District.
This particular service – a partnership between the city and Drive.ai – will be the first of its kind in the country offering free, on-demand, self-driving service to any member of the general public.
“When I got in actually I felt a thrill to see that we are finally doing it, that there is finally the technology,” said Kathryn Wilemon, an Arlington city council member, after taking part in the very first public demonstration ride of the Drive.ai shuttle. “And it was so safe you didn’t feel anything.”
The issue of safety is one that city leaders and the developer are confident should be a non-issue, meaning that there should be no added concern that the self-driving vehicles are a danger to the public.
“The question is, ‘Is this [computer] driving better than a human driving a car?’ We can guarantee that it is,” said Drive.ai CEO Bijit Halder.
Prior to hitting the streets with passengers on board starting Friday, the artificial intelligence "brain" that runs the Drive.ai shuttle has already run through approximately one million simulations of potential traffic scenarios along its specific route – along Randol Mill Road and Road to Six Flags Drive, as well as other streets. In addition, the shuttle has driven the route during off-hours with low traffic and no passengers to test out the program in the real world.
There are five Drive.ai shuttles and they will operate in Arlington for at least the next year during this pilot program. The rides are offered to users for free, but the partnership will cost the City of Arlington $400,000.