Driverless vans have launched in a second North Texas city. Fully autonomous vans hit the streets in Arlington last week, following the summer launch of a pilot program in Frisco with a limited group of riders who work in Frisco's Hall Park. The general public had the chance to ride in Frisco's self-driving vans Monday and slots filled up fast.
"We had so many people who were asking us when it would be available to the public," Drive.ai's Don Lepard said. "We had some circumstances where people were showing up to Hall Park that didn't work here saying, 'When can I ride in this?' That's when it was really clear to us we needed to open it up to the public and give them a chance to see the technology."
Last week, the city published notice in its newsletter that Drive.ai would offer limited rides Monday and Tuesday. Within hours, the slots filled up.
"It tells me the technology is there and the adoption level is there," Lepard said. "As soon as it opens up to the general public and then our time slots fill up within 12 hours with people who want to take the service, to me, that's really an indication the city of Frisco is really ready for autonomous vehicles."
Drive.ai isn't publicly releasing other rate of adoption numbers for the pilot program, but Lepard said the company and its partners are still anticipating expanding the route beyond Hall Park and The Star.
Gwen Turner of Frisco took one of the first rides offered to the general public Monday. Turner said she was a bit hesitant before she climbed into the bright orange vans that use sensors and cameras to navigate streets.
"Getting in a car without a driver, that was the scary part for my daughter," Turner said. "But it was not as bad as I anticipated."
The vans were fully autonomous. A human safety driver rides in front, prepared to take over if necessary.
"His hands weren't on the steering wheel and his foot wasn't on the brakes," Turner said. "He was actually just there for reassurance."
She left the short ride a believer.
"I think it's the future," Turner said.
Priya Radhakrishnan of Frisco arrived for her time slot on Monday evening with her mother-in-law and four-year-old in tow. Her son couldn't ride because he's not 18, but Radhakrishnan couldn't help but think about how the technology will continue to change in his lifetime.
"Probably cars that fly," said Radhakrishnan, as she waited her turn to board the van. "I'm in IT, so I've experienced a lot of automation, but definitely not this kind."
As for the future of fully autonomous vehicles, Radhakrishnan left her ride wondering what will come next.
"I think it will be a journey. Will it be the future? Definitely. Will it be the only future? I don't think so. I think it's going to evolve," she said.
Drive.ai will offer more rides for an hour and a half on Tuesday, but those rides have already been booked. Interested riders can fill out a form here for additional rides that may be offered in the future.