Hands Off the Wheel: Self-Driving Shuttles Debut in Columbus, Ohio

Northern California has Silicon Valley and SoCal has Silicon Beach. But, don’t discount Columbus. The Ohio city is also at the forefront of emerging technology and home to makers, thinkers and doers behind cutting edge start-ups.

Last month, self-driving shuttles debuted in Columbus. They’re currently in trial mode, while the route along Scioto Mile is tested. Passengers will be welcome beginning in December.

Although Columbus prides itself on being a very walkable city, take a load off your feet and get out of the humidity next August when in town for ASAE. Go for a ride along the downtown loop. The path includes Center of Science and Industry (COSI), Smart Columbus Experience Center, Bicentennial Park and National Veterans Memorial and Museum, opening soon. Additional routes will be added later.

These self-driving vehicles—a joint effort between Smart Columbus and DriveOhio—are operated by Ann Arbor, Michigan-based start-up May Mobility. “This is an important project for Columbus, but this pilot is a big step in our statewide plan. We want to enable other local governments throughout the state to safely test, operate and evaluate these self-driving shuttles so they can help their constituents move more easily from place to place,” says Jim Barna, executive director of DriveOhio.

Human Back Up

Each shuttle seats four passengers and has a glass roof for enjoying a panoramic view of the skyline. A digital screen inside the vehicle provides information about the operating system and tourist attractions. At least for now, an operator will supervise the vehicles in case manual control is needed.

In June 2016, Columbus beat 77 rival cities to win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge. Since then, the $40 million prize has been used to develop Smart Columbus projects, such as these self-driving shuttles. With funds from additional grants and investments, Columbus seeks to become a pioneer in applying the latest technologies to improving transportation systems. They hope to be a role model for cities statewide and nationally.

“Cities are seeking cost-effective transportation services that will improve congestion in urban cores, and self-driving shuttles can offer a huge relief,” said Edwin Olson, founder and CEO of May Mobility. “As we work toward a future where people can drive less and live more, we’re thrilled to be working with partners from Columbus to provide a new transportation experience that will make traveling through Columbus safe, reliable and personal.”

Columbus also hopes to be in the victory lane in the fierce competition to be awarded Amazon HQ2. Nineteen other cities are vying for that prize.


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