That didn’t take long.
Two days after Alphabet’s Waymo subsidiary announced that it would begin testing a fully autonomous taxi service on the streets of suburban Phoenix, Ariz. - provoking warnings from safety groups who claim Waymo’s own data show its cars are not yet prepared to safely operate on public roads - another self-driving shuttle service being tested in Las Vegas, Nevada created a local controversy when one of its shuttles collided with a human driver. And what's more, the accident occurred on the project's first day in operation.
As the Verge notes, within an hour of starting its new expanded operation today, following a two-week pilot test back in January, the shuttle hit the front end of a large delivery truck as the human driver pulled out into the street from a loading bay. Luckily, all eight people aboard the shuttle were wearing their seatbelts.
However, a spokesperson for AAA, which is working with the city of Las Vegas and Keolis - the private French transportation company that’s been responsible for testing the driverless cars - to sponsor the program and survey driver attitudes toward autonomous vehicles, confirmed that the accident was actually the truck driver’s fault. The shuttles operate in a 0.6 mile loop around Las Vegas offering free rides.
Luckily, only the front bumper of the shuttle was damaged, and none of the eight passengers or the truck driver were injured.
A representative of the Las Vegas city government provided more details about the incident in a tumblr post published by the city:
UPDATE: Minor incident downtown Wednesday afternoon
The autonomous shuttle was testing today when it was grazed by a delivery truck downtown. The shuttle did what it was supposed to do, in that it’s sensors registered the truck and the shuttle stopped to avoid the accident. Unfortunately the delivery truck did not stop and grazed the front fender of the shuttle. Had the truck had the same sensing equipment that the shuttle has the accident would have been avoided. Testing of the shuttle will continue during the 12-month pilot in the downtown Innovation District. The shuttle will remain out of service for the rest of the day. The driver of the truck was cited by Metro.
AAA, in partnership with Keolis, just brought the future of transportation to America, and now the century-old auto club wants to hear from you.
AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah (AAA) is sponsoring the nation’s first self-driving shuttle pilot project geared specifically for the public. Over the course of a year, the self-driving shuttle aims at providing a quarter-million residents and visitors of Las Vegas with first-hand experience using autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, exposing most riders to the technology for the first time. This pilot builds on Keolis’ limited shuttle launch in downtown Las Vegas in early 2017; today’s launch will be the first self-driving vehicle to be fully integrated with a city’s traffic infrastructure.
In addition to studying how the shuttle interacts in a live traffic environment in downtown Las Vegas’ busy Innovation District, AAA will survey riders on their experience in order to understand why a large percentage of consumers remain wary of driverless technology, and whether a personal experience changes their perception. AAA partnered with the city of Las Vegas, the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) and Keolis North America (Keolis), which will operate and maintain the NAVYA Arma fully electric shuttle.
The shuttle is manufactured by NAVYA, comes equipped with LiDAR technology, GPS, cameras, and will seat 8 passengers with seatbelts. Safety features include the ability to automatically and immediately brake in the event of a pedestrian crossing in the path of the vehicle. In addition to surveying the shuttle’s riders, AAA will examine how others sharing the streets react to it – including pedestrians and cyclists. AAA chose Las Vegas for the launch because of the state’s progressive regulations on autonomous vehicles, heavy investment in innovation, the high volume of visitors and a sunny, dry climate that’s favorable for testing new driving technology.
How the Self-Driving Shuttle Pilot Program Works
Covering a 0.6-mile loop in the Fremont East “Innovation District” of downtown Las Vegas, the all-electric, self-driving shuttle offers free rides for people to experience autonomous transportation in a real-world environment. The shuttle is the country’s first autonomous shuttle to be fully integrated with “smart-city” infrastructure, communicating with traffic signals to improve safety and traffic flow. The shuttle is operated and maintained by Keolis, which also led the efforts to integrate its vehicle into the smart-city infrastructure, in partnership with the city of Las Vegas and NAVYA.
The shuttle can be boarded at any of the autonomous-vehicle shuttle’s three stops located on Fremont Street and Carson Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and 8th Street.
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As we pointed out yesterday following Waymo’s big driverless-car announcement, driverless cars are regulated by a patchwork of state laws. Arizona, like many states, has no restrictions against operating an autonomous vehicle without a person in the driver’s seat. On the other hand, California, where Waymo is headquartered, requires any self-driving car to have a safety driver sitting in the front.
However, just because companies can legally test these cars, doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve been optimized for safety. In December, Waymo published a report for California’s Department of Motor Vehicles about how frequently its driverless cars “disengaged” because of a system failure or safety risk and forcing a human driver to take over. In the report, Waymo said this happened once every 5,000 miles the cars drove in 2016, compared with once every 1,250 miles in 2015. While that’s certainly an improvement, these types of incidents are hardly rare.