Downtown Las Vegas (at the far north end of the famous Strip) has been revitalizing dramatically for several years, but residents, workers, and visitors needed more convenient transportation to hop around businesses and attractions in the area, especially given limited parking. And maybe a chance to try something really cool.
While the city launched a conventional downtown shuttle service this year to circulate riders among downtown destinations, it also decided the time was ripe to test driverless vehicles.
In January, the city conducted a 10-day pilot to test the technology and gauge public opinion. A battery-powered, 12-passenger autonomous vehicle started doing a three block jaunt back and forth along Fremont Street between 8th Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. Equipped with advanced sensors and GPS, it detects everything around it (including other vehicles and pedestrians of course), and errs on the side of caution like pausing at crosswalks.
Just in case, a human supervisor was on board during the pilot, and though capable of going twice as fast, speeds did not exceed 12 mph.
The shuttle, Joanna tells us, represented the first driverless public transit vehicle to operate within a public right-of-way in the U.S.
An average of 1,000 people rode each day (regular visitors, downtown workers, and tech tourists). The shuttle worked so well and was so popular that the city will partner again with Keolis (a public transportation specialist) and NAVYA (a French shuttle-making startup) for a second 30-day pilot this fall. Dedicated short-range radios that broadcast traffic signal timings to the shuttle will be introduced for greater efficiency.
If all keep clicking, the city will look at a more extended downtown route and long-term deployment. The State of Nevada already has a licensing process and regs in place for driverless vehicles.
Born and raised in Las Vegas. In fact, every school she attended from grade school through the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (bachelor’s in civil engineering ’98; master’s in civil engineering ’01) was located on the same street—Maryland Parkway. Met her husband ballroom dancing, and they have one cat. Has been doing triathlons (think Iron Man) since 2006.
A certified level three Wilton cake decorator.