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Driverless shuttle makes stop near Arlington Convention Center

Who's driving this vehicle?

Self-driving, fully autonomous transit vehicle on tour in Arlington providing preview of new technology from Alliance for Transportation Innovation
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Self-driving, fully autonomous transit vehicle on tour in Arlington providing preview of new technology from Alliance for Transportation Innovation

For 12-year-old Evan Smith, it’s easy to imagine a not-too-distant future in which driverless shuttles are common on North Texas streets.

Smith and his dad were among dozens of residents who took a test spin Thursday in an autonomous vehicle — the EasyMile EZ10. It’s a battery-powered shuttle about a tenth the size of a typical bus.

“I felt safe. I didn’t feel endangered,” Smith, who lives in Rowlett, said after the demonstration outside the Arlington Convention Center. He is home-schooled, and his dad, Josh Smith, is a traffic engineer.

Arlington leaders say they want to explore high-tech transportation alternatives. The EasyMile EZ10 raised eyebrows among those who stopped by to check it out after a mayor’s prayer breakfast at the convention center.

“The interior is very nice,” Evan Smith said. “There is glass on all sides, so you can see everywhere.”

The demonstration was hosted by the Alliance for Transportation Innovation, which is taking the EaseMile EZ10 on a cross-country trip with companies such as EasyMile, Transdev, Splunk and HDR that help build and operate the vehicle.

Fully automated

Once the EasyMile EZ10 is programmed to follow a course, it follows directions precisely, using “enhanced GPS technology” that is accurate within about 1 centimeter, said Paul Brubaker, the group’s chief executive. There is no need to track it remotely from a command center, he said.

It would be ideal for a university campus.

Paul Brubaker, Alliance for Transportation Innovations

The vehicle’s top speed is 25 mph, although on Thursday it only went about 6 mph. The electrical engine makes almost no noise. A trolley bell occasionally sounds as the vehicle reaches its scheduled stop.

If a pedestrian or animal steps into the EasyMile EZ10’s path, the vehicle senses the obstacle using a laser detection system known as LIDAR (somewhat similar to technology used by police to catch speeders). It comes to an immediate halt and stays that way until the coast is clear.

Inside, the vehicle is similar to a tiny light-rail car. There are six seats and standing room for six other passengers. An on-board monitor shows the shuttle’s course and upcoming stops. Buttons can be pushed to open its doors or to unveil a ramp so that people using strollers or wheelchairs can get on or off.

Last mile

Brubaker says the technology is ideal for taking people on the “last mile” of a journey, and could be used in the entertainment district to help patrons get to AT&T Stadium, Globe Life Park or Six Flags Over Texas.

“It is capable of many applications,” he said. “It would be ideal for a university campus.”

How much it would cost to set up a network of shuttles isn’t known, but generally the cars are built for about $212,000 each, Brubaker said.

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796, @gdickson

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