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UTA and UDOT launch new driverless shuttle

(Photo: Paul Nelson)

SALT LAKE COUNTY – It’s being called the future of transportation in Utah and state officials are hoping the public gets comfortable with it, soon.  The Utah Department of Transportation and UTA unveiled their new driverless shuttle, and they hope that it’s the first of many.

The shuttle, made by EasyMile, isn’t that much bigger than a large van.  It only fits up to 12 people and it can reach a top speed of just 15 miles an hour.  So, this new vehicle won’t solve all of Utah’s traffic problems right away.  However, UDOT Executive Director Carlos Braceras says this is just a baby step into a much bigger world.

“In the next five years or so, we’re going to see this technology as so commonplace, we’re not going to notice it’s around,” he says.

The shuttle operates along a pre-planned route and it has sensors that can tell if a distracted pedestrian or another obstacle is in the way.  Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox volunteered to be a guinea pig to test to see if it works.

Plus, there will be an employee, or “host” in the shuttle that is trained to take over in case anything goes wrong.  Braceras has a lot of faith in these kids of vehicles, but, he admits the general public might need a little convincing.

“It’s important to know what the technology can do and also understand the limitations around the technology,” Braceras says.

This unveiling is the beginning of a year-long pilot program which will let people from all over Utah see the shuttle up close.

Cox says, “As this vehicle travels around, people will be able to come and check it out and get on board.”

Cox also says people would be surprised to learn just how many different kinds of autonomous vehicles are being tested all over the country, from personal cars to semi trucks.

“The technology is here.  It’s being refined.  It still has a way to go, but, there is no question that in the next ten years, we’re going to see major changes on the roads in Utah,” according to Cox.

The first stop will be at Station Park in Farmington, and riders can use the shuttle in May.  People can click on the project’s website to see where it will go after that.